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Pain at the pump hurting restaurants

ORLANDO -- If your pocketbook is hurting as the price of gas nears $4 a gallon in some areas, you are definitely not alone.

Myra Nadal put gas into her SUV on West Colonial Drive in Orlando Tuesday afternoon. She said the current gas prices are upsetting her. "Now I got to limit myself from going outside because of my gas prices," Nadal said. "This is ridiculous. It’s got to stop.” Nadal said her family cuts back on dining out when the gas prices start climbing. She said if she has an extra $50, she will put it towards gas, rather than spend it on eating out.

Juliana LaDino is the general manager of Zilly Bee in Downtown Orlando and said fewer people are dining out at her restaurant. She said her costs are higher for food and supplies and was shocked Tuesday to see the delivery truck surcharge fee jump $6. “Absolutely frustrated. I don’t know what to do,” LaDino said.

University of Florida Director of the Bureau of the Economic and Business Research Chris McCarty said consumers may start seeing more price increases on menus and in the supermarket if the gas prices continue to climb over the summer months, but said owners know customers are very sensitive to increases.

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Pain at the pump hurting restaurants - April 10, 2012 - News 13, Orlando

Optimism over Florida Grows with Voters, while Buying Prospects Remain Uncertain

Optimism is slowly growing among Florida voters, but consumers in the Sunshine State tended to be a little more pessimistic in March than February, according to recent surveys by the Florida Chamber and University of Florida.

A Florida Chamber Political Institute study released Friday showed that voters were a little more supportive of the direction of the state and Gov. Rick Scott.

“While the national economy and Washington politics are causing concern with voters, this is quite an improvement from June of last year, when 60 percent said the state was headed in the wrong direction,” Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, stated in a release.

“The fact that likely voters rate Governor Scott more positively is an indication that they agree with his jobs agenda and that he is moving forward with exactly what he campaigned on.”

Meanwhile, UF’s Survey Research Center at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research found that concerns about the U.S. economic conditions over the next five years and uncertainty over whether now is the time to make big-ticket item purchases are causing a drag on Consumer Sentiment.
“The big drag on consumers will increasingly be gas prices, which have increased more than 15 cents a gallon in the past month,” Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center at the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, stated in a release for the survey released March 27.

“Prior to the housing market unraveling and the beginning of the past recession, there was a period of more than two years where gas prices were driving Consumer Sentiment. With increases in gas prices likely over the next few months, consumers -- particularly those with lower incomes -- will feel the impact. This will lead to lower confidence and perhaps lower spending than that associated with the higher January and February confidence results.”

Both surveys were conducted prior to the release Friday of the February unemployment numbers for Florida that listed 869,000 Floridians as jobless, a 9.4 mark that was the lowest for the Sunshine State since February 2009.
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Optimism over Florida Grows with Voters, while Buying Prospects Remain Uncertain - Sunshine State News - April 3, 2012

Scott influenced tech, scientific job increases

Job creation wasn't just about numbers. The 7-7-7 plan also emphasized growth of high-paying, high-skill jobs in technology and biotech with a goal of growing wages and salaries.

Gov. Rick Scott entered the fray at a point when tourism was the strongest industry in Florida and the state was operating in a deficit compared with the national economic scenario.

In 2011, the job trend turned positive for several industries.

Scott appointed himself chief economic officer and reached out to companies considering a move to Florida. Maybe he influenced those technology-based companies, because the biggest relative gain was in professional, scientific and technical services, which added 18,400 jobs.

Those are jobs that pay a median salary of $46,854, well above the state median of $31,335, according to occupational data reported by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Some economists urge the use of median figures rather than averages because they show what the person in the middle makes and are not skewed by extremes at the top or bottom.

Meanwhile, Scott aggressively cut government, and the state lost 7,200 public sector jobs. Those generally pay above the state median, although the state jobs pay less than local and federal jobs.

But the first sector to recover from the recession was tourism, so jobs were created where people eat and shop. Retail trade added 31,300 jobs at a median salary of $22,987 and food and accommodation added 13,700 jobs at a median salary of $19,127.

"The unfortunate part is what seems to be leading the way is tourism," said economist David Denslow of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "Those aren't high value-added jobs, so I wish it were the manufacturing leading the way or high-tech."

In a Florida TaxWatch report comparing the current economic scenario to past recoveries, Denslow, as part of the Florida Council of Economic Advisors, predicted muted growth through the third year of recovery, despite more rapid rises after recessions in the 1990s and 2000s. Where the jobs were lost and where they're being created has changed.

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Scott influenced tech, scientific job increases - Palm Beach Post - March 30, 2012

UF: Consumer Sentiment in Fla. falls in March, mimics last year’s trend

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumer Sentiment among Floridians fell two points in March to 74, repeating a trend seen last year, according to a monthly University of Florida survey.

“The pattern of Consumer Sentiment from December to February was exactly the same as last year,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “In March 2011 confidence among Floridians fell four points to 72, and then kept falling through August coinciding with a pull-back in spending among Floridians. This month the decline was only two points, but still down.”

Three of the five categories measured by the survey showed a drop of confidence among respondents. For instance, their overall assessment of the strength of the national economy over the next year declined one point to 73, while their trust in U.S. economic conditions over the next five years sank six points to 75. Perceptions over whether the present is a good time to buy big-ticket items such as automobiles or refrigerators also fell, dropping four points to 79.

Survey takers, however, were not so gloomy in how they viewed their personal financial situations. Taken as a whole, their perception that they are personally better off financially today than they were a year ago increased three points to 62, a post-recession high. In addition, their expectations that personal finances will improve a year from now increased one point to 82.

Unrest in the Middle East and the Japanese earthquake helped to tamp down Consumer Sentiment in the first quarter of last year, but rising fuel costs are fueling the current anxiety.

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UF: Consumer Sentiment in Fla. falls in March, mimics last year’s trend - University of Florida News - March 27, 2012

More on this topic:

Florida Consumer Sentiment drops in March as gas prices rise - Sun Sentinel - March 27, 2012

Floridians' Consumer Sentiment falls again - South Florida Business Journal - March 27, 2012

Floridians' Consumer Sentiment falls again - Miami Herald - March 27, 2012

Consumer Sentiment steady nationally, down a bit in Florida - - March 27, 2012

Floridians' Consumer Sentiment wanes slightly - Sarasota Herald-Tribune - March 27, 2012

Gas prices drive down Consumer Sentiment in March - Tampa Bay Times - March 28, 2012

Recession brings diversity to Sarasota

An unexpected outgrowth of the worst recession in 70 years: Sarasota has quietly become more cosmopolitan.

While hard times discouraged Midwesterners and New Englanders from moving here, more Peruvians, Italians, Brazilians, Ukranians and many others made the Gulf Coast home.

The foreign-born population in Manatee and Sarasota counties jumped 57 percent during the first decade of the 21st century — double the national growth.

Of course, the overall population of the two counties grew at nearly double the national rate, too. But Manatee and Sarasota looked much more like America in 2010 than they did in 2000.

At the beginning of the decade, just 8.4 percent of Manatee's population was born in another country. By the end of the decade, that grew to 12.2 percent. In Sarasota County, the number rose from 9.3 percent to 11.5 percent.

Larger metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles and Miami have long been gateways for the foreign-born. This secondary shift to more sedate locales like Sarasota is a nationwide phenomenon, says David Jacobson, a political sociologist at the University of South Florida who focuses on migration and citizenship issues.

"We are seeing a tipping point where minorities are now at least half of the population in the biggest cities," Jacobson says. "But immigration is changing smaller cities and towns as well. Hispanics and Asians in particular are moving beyond the traditional ethnic enclaves of the large metropolitan areas."

Such is the story of Southwest Florida's tiny but dynamic Bangladeshi community, which swelled from seven to 90 residents from 2000 to 2010. A migration like theirs is recession-proof, says Stefan Rayner, a research demographer for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

"With international migration you generally have a large family component," Rayner notes. "They may or may not come for economic reasons, but because they want to be with family. That can add up to a significant instream, especially when the economy is not doing too well."

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Recession brings diversity to Sarasota - Herald-Tribune - March 24, 2012


Tampa's income, infrastructure keep lid on growth


The gateway to downtown Tampa overlooks a 40-acre urban renewal project and a vacant plot where a light-rail and high-speed rail station would have been built if voters, and then the governor, had not turned the projects down.

The nearby Channelside retail, restaurant and entertainment complex remains mired in management difficulties, while a much-maligned streetcar that rambles alongside it provides the region's only alternative to car and bus travel.

Across the country, what catches one's eye along Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle is the Mariners' retractable-roof ballpark side-by-side with the Seahawks' football stadium. Commuter trains extend more than 25 miles north and south of downtown, and a 16-mile light-rail line serves the airport.

Preservationists rescued Pike Place Market from city demolition plans 50 years ago to transform it into a world-renowned anchor for downtown retail, tourist and conference trade that keeps sidewalks lively beyond 5 p.m.

But a major factor that differentiates the two cities is not immediately apparent: The Seattle area's $82,700 median annual income is $27,000 higher than the Tampa area's, data for 2011 show.

It's not necessary to travel 2,600 miles to find similar examples of income disparity. Tampa ranked last among a half-dozen Sun Belt business competitors — Jacksonville, Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham, Atlanta and Dallas — in the Tampa Bay Partnership's most recent economic scorecard.

A relatively low wage base, few corporate headquarters to provide major local spending sources and a political climate that quashed recent transportation initiatives affect the Tampa Bay area's quest to improve amenities and attract businesses — which in turn could raise the local wage base.

As Tampa area leaders seek improvements — better transportation, a new ballpark to keep the Tampa Bay Rays and other urban amenities — the amount of funding area residents are able, and willing, to contribute is almost certain to become an increasingly volatile — and vital — issue.

Pinellas County is considering a plan for a 24-mile light-rail system between Clearwater and St. Petersburg, with a proposed connection via a new Howard Frankland Bridge span to Tampa.

The Pinellas funding proposal would swap a sales tax increase for eliminating a property tax for transit, a new strategy that takes a lesson from the failed Hillsborough proposal.

If Pinellas takes the lead with a successful light-rail initiative in 2013 or 2014, an enhanced transit plan could be resurrected in Hillsborough County, though elected officials in particular appear to be in no hurry to raise the rail issue in Tampa so soon after the referendum defeat.

"Keep an eye on how things work out in Pinellas County," said Gary Sasso, president and chief executive officer of the Carlton Fields law firm in Tampa and head of the partnership's transportation task force. "Transportation continues to be a matter of great concern."

Sasso said public education about transportation issues is going to be a large part of moving forward. To that end, the partnership established the website, a name reflecting a double entendre of rail opportunities the area lacks along with the role of transit in advancing economic development.

Intuitively, it would appear that better transportation would enhance economic development and ultimately a higher wage base, said David Denslow, a research economist for the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

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Tampa's income, infrastructure keep lid on growth - Tampa Tribune - March 4, 2012

Homeowners underwater on mortgages hold back First Coast's economic recovery

The reviving Northeast Florida economy is coming up for air after the brutal recession, but one remnant of the downturn is still holding back the recovery — the high number of homeowners underwater on their mortgages.

In the Jacksonville area, about 45 percent of property owners with mortgages owe more than the homes are worth, according to CoreLogic, a California company that tracks the real estate industry.

That is double the rate for the nation. And it casts a long shadow on other positive economic trends.

Northeast Florida job growth is picking up with a 1.8 percent increase in December compared with the previous year. The stock market broke through the 13,000 mark briefly, restoring money that was lost from 401(k) accounts and other investments.

University of Florida surveys of Consumer Sentiment show people are more upbeat now than in the dark days of the recession. The monthly report released Tuesday gave a score of 76 for Consumer Sentiment in February, better than the all-time low of 59 in June 2008. During the preceding housing boom, Consumer Sentiment went as high as 96 in June 2005.

“What we’re operating in now is the new normal,” said survey director Chris McCarty. “But it’s very clear that after the recession, Consumer Sentiment has moved up.”

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Homeowners underwater on mortgages hold back First Coast's economic recovery - Florida Times Union - March 3, 2012

UF: Florida consumers remain mildly optimistic

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumer Sentiment among Floridians dropped one point in February to 76 from January, according to a University of Florida survey. The modest decline followed two months of rising levels of confidence in the economy.

“The pattern of Consumer Sentiment in Florida over the last three months is exactly the same as it was a year ago,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “From December 2010 to February 2011, the overall level of confidence went from 70 to 77, then 76, the same as this year.”

The test of whether the confidence is sustained will come in March, he said. In 2011, it dropped four points. It continued to decline steadily until August as Americans reacted pessimistically to events at home and abroad.

For the moment, however, various economic indicators show why Floridians remain modestly optimistic. For example, recent stock market activity reached post-recession highs, lifting the Dow Jones industrial average over 13,000. This rise, McCarty said, tops a “psychological barrier that if passed could lead to increased investment.”

Florida’s unemployment rate in December dropped to 9.9 percent. Most of the new jobs were in trade, transportation and utilities. Home prices, which edged up to an average $134,300 in December, have stabilized since, though they are expected to decline again later in the year if the Florida Legislature approves legislation to speed up foreclosures on 368,000 properties, McCarty said.

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UF: Florida consumers remain mildly optimistic - University of Florida News - February 28, 2012

More on this topic:

Consumer Sentiment drops in Florida -  South Florida Business Journal - February 28, 2012

Consumer Sentiment in Florida drops a little in February - Sun-Sentinel - February 28, 2012

State Consumer Sentiment dips, faces critical test - Gainesville Sun - February 28, 2012


UF survey: Florida Consumer Sentiment surges upward in January

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumer Sentiment among Floridians surged in January, up seven points to 77 from a revised December reading of 70, marking a steady rise in optimism, according to a University of Florida survey.

Four of the five categories measured by the survey reveal increased optimism. For instance, the overall perception among survey takers that they are better off financially than they were a year ago rose four points to 60, the highest figure since March 2008 when the U.S. economy began to falter. Expectations that their personal finances will improve by this time next year also rose eight points to 86.

In addition, confidence in the nation’s economy over the next year went up dramatically by 14 points to 74. Trust in the U.S. economy over the next five years was upbeat, too, moving 10 points to 83. These figures parallel results of a University of Michigan study that show Consumer Sentiment across the nation shot up from 69.9 in December to 75 in January.

Only when it came to deciding if the present is a good time to buy big-ticket items such as an automobile or a refrigerator, did confidence among respondents sag, falling four points to 81.

“Consumer Sentiment in Florida is now back to the level it was in January 2011,” said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “We are beginning the year with the same pattern as last year where there were relatively steady increases in confidence from the end of the summer with a surge to 77 in January 2011. This was followed by seven months of decline with the low of 61 in August 2011 when Congress debated the debt ceiling.”

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UF survey: Florida Consumer Sentiment surges upward in January - University of Florida News - January 31, 2012

More on this topic:

Consumer Sentiment surges in Florida - Miami Herald - January 31, 2012

Floridians' Consumer Sentiment jumps in January - South Florida Sun Sentinel - January 31, 2012

Florida consumers gain confidence; national reading slumps - Herald-Tribune - January 31, 2012

Florida Consumer Sentiment soars in January - Tampa Bay Times - February 1, 2012

Case-Shiller: No bottom for housing in South Florida - Miami Herald - February 1, 2012

Employment Gains Help Grow Florida's Consumer Sentiment - Sunshine State News - February 1, 2012

UF: Buyer confidence “surges” - Gulf Coast Business Review - February 1, 2012


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Housing still a dark cloud in South Florida’s economic future

How predictable: Housing remains the biggest question mark looming over South Florida’s economic future.As economists mapped out their forecasts for 2012, they generally see the year shaping up as another 12 months of slow recovery. Hiring should expand a little bit more than it did in 2011, consumers should continue opening their wallets, and tourism should remain a bright spot. “For the first time in a few years, I feel some rays of optimism are hitting the landscape,’’ said Raul Valdes-Fauli, president of Professional Bank, a small community bank in Coral Gables. “For the last few years, I have been very down on things.” But housing prices seem likely to remain depressed. A forecast by Moody’s calls for a 12 percent drop in South Florida real estate values during 2012, as banks push a wave of foreclosed homes onto an already depressed market. Other industry watchers see the prediction as too grim, but it does capture a consensus that foreclosed homes will be an even bigger drag on the real estate recovery than they were in 2011.

Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research expects per-capita income to grow 1.5 percent statewide in 2012, thanks in part to a 3.4 percent gain in overall wages. Consumers remained resilient in 2011, and an autumn pickup in the University of Florida’s statewide confidence index is expected to continue into 2012. “Consumers, both nationally and in Florida, sort of defy logic,’’ said Chris McCarty, head of UF’s survey bureau. “They are still doing some spending.”

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Housing still a dark cloud in South Florida’s economic future - Miami Herald - December 31, 2011