MANATEE -- Housing starts, job growth and domestic migration will continue to be on the upswing in Manatee County in 2016, according to one of the state's premier economists.
Henry Fishkind, principal of Orlando-based economic consultants Fishkind & Associates, presented the 2016 economic forecast for Manatee County at Manatee Technical College Thursday morning.
The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation hosted the event for the seventeenth year in a row. Last year, Fishkind predicted 2015 would be a year of significant population growth for Manatee County and according to his research, the prediction was right.
Manatee County outpaced Sarasota County in 2015 for population growth. About 8,000 people moved to Manatee County over the last year compared to about 6,000 in Sarasota County, Fishkind said.
Housing starts, or the construction of new homes in Manatee County, are back to the same peak level as the prior boom, Fishkind said, which is unique to the rest of Florida. The reasons for continued home construction directly correlate to the influx of U.S. residents moving into the area.
"It's just demand," Fishkind said.
In addition to a burgeoning tourism industry and the Gulf Coast lifestyle, changes in the structure of Manatee County's economy has helped bring businesses and more people into the area.
"The most attractive areas of Sarasota County are built out and pricey," he said. "This area has the ability to garner a competitive advantage relative to the share of growth that can be accommodated here in Manatee County as compared to in Sarasota."
Lakewood Ranch played a large role in the population growth as well.
"I think Lakewood Ranch has been a significant factor in the structural change and in creating the opportunity for growth in the county," Fishkind said. "It is one of the best-selling master-planned communities in the U.S.; that's an objective fact." Lakewood Ranch made the top ten 2015 master-planned communities on lists published by two national real-estate consulting firms.
Overall in the state of Florida, job growth is sustained by the tourism and healthcare industries and population growth in 2015 was better than predicted. And though 2016 indications and predictions are positive for Manatee County and Florida as a whole, 2015 growth in the U.S. real gross domestic product was "disappointing," according to Fishkind's presentation.
He attributed the lag in real GDP growth to fallout from the Great Recession, too little stimulus, domestic uncertainty and globalization.
"We want low prices all the time and with globalization we can achieve that with outsourcing," Fishkind said.
But Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, said she sees opportunities to retain and grow jobs in Manatee County. During his presentation, Fishkind noted it's not just retirees moving to Manatee County, but workforce-age people as well.
"Now that people other than retirees are moving to the area we should capitalize on the workforce people moving down here and that will support us in going out to recruit companies in coming here," Hillstrom said.
The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation identified six target industries for growth in its Build Bradenton Area Plan; advanced manufacturing, corporate operations, distribution and logistics, information technology, life sciences and sports performance.
Karen Stewart, economic development program manager for Manatee County, appreciated Fishkind's coomments.
"It confirmed a lot of things we already know about the strides we have made in Manatee County and the growth we have seen in job numbers and the interest in the community from businesses who have moved here or looked at moving here," Stewart said.
Retail sales weren't strong overall in the U.S., mostly because demand is generally up for services and down for goods and the distribution of income has changed, according to a Pew Research Center study Fishkind cited. Combined, low-income and high-income populations outsize the middle class and pay increases in the middle are lagging.
With Manatee County's population growth, Fishkind said he is surprised by the underscored area retail market. Stewart sees the slow retail growth as an opportunity, especially in the county's Southwest TIF.
Because of opportunities for growth in retail and continued population surge, Fishkind predicts 2016 will be another good year for Manatee County.
"2016 is shaping up pretty good; I think better than most people expected," he said.
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.