As 2015 begins in earnest this week, Florida's economic outlook is strong. Manatee County also appears set to shine with optimism coming from a variety of quarters. But beneath the rosy signs of an accelerating economic rebound runs an undercurrent of struggling working families.
Some of the current economic bonanza belongs to the state's rising population fueling growth. With around 800 people moving to Florida daily over the past year, the state surpassed New York to rank third in the country in December Census Bureau figures.
That growing populace is fueling a building boom as Manatee's homebuilders enjoy large increases in sales revenues. That also translates into more construction jobs.
The surge in industrial real estate leasing over the past six months in Manatee and Sarasota counties bodes well for hiring with predictions that 2015 will bear additional fruit in this key sector. Manatee alone has witnessed an industrial market rise since 2012.
Florida on the rise
The Sunshine state added some 700,000 jobs over the past four years. While tourism, retail and health care remain strong sectors, higher-paying jobs in financial, professional and business services are on the rise -- as is manufacturing.
The Tax Foundation's 2015 Business Tax Climate Index ranks Florida fifth, the only large state in the top five with Texas in 10th, and California, New York and New Jersey at the bottom. That's an attractive selling point for business relocations and expansions.
"Florida's economy is faster than most states, which is good news for all taxpayers and residents who rely on state services, from young school children in voluntary pre-K programs to the businesses who use incentives to grow and create jobs." That statement just days ago comes from Dominic M. Calabro, president and chief executive of Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research institute.
Thanks to that solid growth, the December state general revenue forecast shows $2.2 billion in more money than this fiscal year -- an increase of 7.9 percent, which brings the total to a record $30.6 billion in general revenue, primarily from the sales tax.
The plunge in gas prices is driving more consumer purchases, and sales taxes from tourism and business purchases are also rising. Manatee expects to attract 3 million visitors this year after a highly successful 2014 tourism season.
Economist Hank Fishkind believes momentum is building toward an even stronger economic recovery in 2015. The Orlando-based consultant will deliver his views on local, regional and national economic trends on Jan. 15 at the 2015 Economic Forecast Breakfast sponsored by Hancock Bank in partnership with the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.
On a local level, the city of Bradenton is now focusing on infrastructure improvements, including road paving and water main replacement; Manatee County is moving forward with plans to establish a water park in a high visibility area, creating jobs and boosting tourism; and construction on an $83 million interchange at University Parkway and Interstate 75 should begin next summer.
Palmetto should soon complete upgrades at Riverside Park with an expanded boat ramp and new docks finished in time for February's Formula 2 Regatta on the Manatee River. Parrish is poised for a "breakout year" in home construction. Holmes Beach will see a March ground-breaking on a $20 million luxury hotel called Waterline.
A populace left behind
With gas prices and unemployment falling as more jobs open up, consumer confidence is growing across the country. The University of Florida's December survey shows a postrecession peak in optimism among state residents.
At the same time, a new United Way of Florida study found great vulnerability among families -- with 45 percent of the state's 7.2 million households lacking sufficient income to consistently cover the basic costs of housing, food, transportation, health care and child care.
In Manatee County, 30 percent of residents risk falling into poverty and joining the 13 percent currently in those ranks. The study discovered financial instability and hardship across all segments of the working population.
The challenge for President Obama, Congress, Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature is stimulating a more robust and even economic recovery by lifting up Americans on the bottom rungs. More investment in public education and workforce training, vital to higher wages, and stronger housing programs would be a good start.