BRADENTON -- Economists have good news about the economy: Recovery is finally under way.
The bad news: Recovery will be slow.
Manatee County will have to work twice as hard at economic recovery in 2011 as the metropolitan areas nationwide that have suffered the most economically since the start of the recession.
Economists say tourism and health care will be among the leading industries in recovery in the coming year. Other industries such as housing, manufacturing and banking will remain problematic or weak in 2011.
“I don’t think things are going to be going gangbusters in 2011,” said economist Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida. “We’re going to see a slow, steady build of momentum over the course of the year, but we’re more likely to see economic surprises that are pleasant ones rather than negative shocks.”
This year brought plenty of economic stress to the area.
Foreclosures in Manatee County totaled 3,657 through Friday, unemployment still rests above 11 percent and the oil spill stifled summer tourism.
The Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port area ranked among the 20 weakest-performing metro areas through the third quarter, according to the Brookings Institution.
The area’s employment decreased 14.9 percent, housing prices plunged 49 percent and gross metropolitan product dropped 3.5 percent from 2006 when all categories were at their peak, stated Brookings, which publishes quarterly metro reports.
“Overall, the data show that most major metropolitan economies are stuck in neutral,” said Howard Wial, a fellow at Brookings and co-author of the metro report.
In the year ahead, economists say the toughest issues for Bradenton-Sarasota will be job growth, high unemployment rates and foreclosures.
Economic development officials in Manatee and Sarasota counties say strategic site visits, international outreach, and relocation and expansion assistance will be at the forefront of their 2011 agendas.
Eric Basinger, executive director of the Manatee Economic Development Council, said business recruitment plans for 2011 will concentrate on the West Coast and Midwest.
“We’ll be meeting with companies that we think are a good fit for the community and getting in front of companies that have good expansion plans,” Basinger said.
This year, the Manatee Economic Development Council has assisted with the relocations and expansions of 25 companies that are projected to create 1,719 high-impact jobs over the next five years. These companies have qualified for a combined $1.8 million in performance-based incentives.
Basinger added that the EDC’s agenda for 2011 includes working closely with local businesses that may be facing legislative issues, lease expirations or growth.
“We’re preparing a calendar of who we’re going to get in front of to see how they’re doing and how we can help them,” Basinger said.
The Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County is also on a mission to create more jobs. In a strategic plan published in 2009, the EDC estimated Sarasota County would need to add about 15,000 jobs over the next five years -- about 3,000 a year -- to return to employment levels of 2005 and 2006.
Aside from finding a successor for Kathy Baylis, who plans to retire as president and chief executive officer of the Sarasota EDC in June, the EDC will take a hard look at the infrastructure in the area.
“We will continue to look at what types of infrastructure we need to have in place to grow our existing industries,” Baylis said.
Among the industries that need the most help with job growth, according to the latest state labor statistics released Friday, are construction, manufacturing, financial activities, government and information.
Those industries have lost a combined 43,600 jobs in the past year.
Economists say population growth will be another key to recovery in Florida.
A growing population is what will reduce the vacant housing inventory, which will spur new construction and new jobs.
“The slowing of population growth in Florida, particularly the slowing of retirees, has impacted the economy,” Snaith said. “If we can continue with stock market recovery, a lot more retirees may be able to make that move they’ve been putting off.”
Economist Henry Fishkind said that’s where recovery for some areas will more heavily depend on tourism.
“The key to recovery in Sarasota and Bradenton is going to be recovery in tourism,” says Fishkind, principal of the economic and financial consulting firm Fishkind & Associates. “Tourism is what will lead to more retirement and that will lead to improvement in jobs. I think this winter season will be a very good one for tourism, and 2011 is going to be a much better year for Florida with the leading sectors being tourism, education and health care in the recovery.”
ABOUT THE SERIES
The Bradenton Herald wraps up 2010 with a series of reports that will recap and forecast some of Manatee County’s major industries. Today, we start with an overall look at the economic conditions of 2010 and what economists forecast for 2011. The series will continue this week and next with reports on tourism, employment, Port Manatee, retail, banking and others.