“A rising tide lifts all boats” is a favorite idiom of local economic development professionals, but middle class “boats” can’t seem to catch the wave.
Economic consultant Hank Fishkind presented his forecast for the upcoming year in Manatee County on Thursday at Manatee Technical College. Newly elected Manatee County Commissioner Priscilla Whisenant Trace found one of Fishkind’s shared statistics “startling.”
The middle class in the U.S. occupies the smallest chunk of aggregate income, according to a Pew Research Center study Fishkind cited. In addition, middle- and lower-class incomes have stagnated while those in the upper tier have continued to rise.
A sluggish middle class keeps the economy treading water instead of moving forward. Without more discretionary income, demand for goods and services will not increase. If demand doesn’t increase, upper-class investors see no need to invest and spur growth, Fishkind said.
Six industries targeted by the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. are advanced manufacturing, corporate operations, distribution and logistics, information technology, life sciences and sports performance
Whisenant Trace said she wants any decisions made by the Manatee County Commission to provide “equitable benefits” to all income levels in the community.
“Increasing jobs, wages and manufacturing jobs is something we need to strive for,” Whisenant Trace said.
Creating jobs is one piece of the economic development puzzle, but a larger part may be preparing potential employees for those jobs.
“On one hand, we need more skills training,” Fishkind said. “Not everybody can and will go to college. We need a lot more skills training because there’s a lot of jobs being created in that space, especially in a growing market.”
I think a trade war is all talk ... and I think the same thing about immigration. We’re not building a $10 billion wall and making Mexico pay for it. Everybody knows that’s nonsense and that’s not going to happen. We will build some fences or whatever we’re going to do to get a fig leaf and move on. And maybe we’ll have some restrictions on immigration but remember, our population is growing at about one half of one percent. If we don’t have immigration, we can’t grow the economy.
Hank Fishkind, president, Fishkind & Associates
Fishkind emphasized that the Manatee County community, by passing the half-cent sales tax increase in November, showed that it wants to prepare for growth with physical infrastructure investments. What he calls “human capital” still needs more investment.
The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. has planned roundtables to help with closing the skills gap, said Sharon Hillstrom, the organization’s President and CEO.
“We’re conducting industry roundtable discussions,” Hillstrom said. “We have identified six target sectors we see high-growth potential in and we’re convening roundtable discussions with companies in each of those sectors. Part of that is we’re going to have higher education be there and be present so that industry can speak directly to those people in leadership positions within academia that are creating curriculum so that it matches what companies are going to be looking for.”
She described the roundtables as forward-looking and said companies are responding well to the idea.
“The other side of the equation is to create more diversity and job growth and to play on the competitive advantages of the community,” Fishkind said. “So, to go after sporting events and sports marketing. IMG (Academy) proved it works here, so we have proof of concept. For the community to expand on that is very important because it creates a lot of service-sector jobs (for) people who are not going to be the next MIT physicist. It can really improve the whole wage level in the community.”
.83 correlation score between U.S. gross domestic product and Sarasota-Bradenton gross regional product. A correlation score of 1 means that two factors are perfectly correlated.
The solution to boosting the middle class in the U.S. and Manatee County is many-fold and will require adaptation to the forces driving the economy, Fishkind said. Those forces include globalization, increased trade, automation and artificial intelligence. Fishkind encouraged “constructive” responses to these forces both from the community and politicians.
“Make no mistake, governments and policy can accelerate or slow these forces but it cannot turn them back,” he said. “It’s just not possible.”