BEBR in the news

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


Employment up in Marion

Fourteen of Florida's 22 markets, including Ocala, added new jobs over the past year, state figures show. Nearly half of the jobs went to three areas: Tampa-St. Petersburg added 26,900 jobs; Miami picked up 18,700; and Jacksonville increased by 8,300 jobs.

Marion County's employment gain was much more modest: a net 1,300 jobs between December 2010 and November 2011, the state records indicate. While that's just a fraction of employment growth other areas have experienced in the past year or so, local observers say the figure is about right, given the local economy's condition. Florida has added 120,000 jobs just between January and November of this year, making the Sunshine State one of America's fastest-growing employment markets.

Gov. Rick Scott, in a recent interview with the Star-Banner's Tallahassee bureau, asserted that Florida is a place where "people believe ... jobs are going to grow."

Pete Tesch, president and CEO of the Ocala-Marion County Economic Development Corp., said the jobs total was about right, keeping pace with what some Florida economists had predicted for Ocala.

"We're pretty much on track, given the economic condition. Hopefully, the bleeding has stopped," Tesch said.

Tesch said new indicators in consumer spending were hopeful. If not producing many new jobs, he noted, that should at least slow the number of layoffs.

Underscoring that point, the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research, or BEBR, reported on Tuesday that Consumer Sentiment among Floridians had risen for the fourth consecutive month, reaching its highest level since March.

And the belief among state residents that it was a good time to purchase "major household items" was the most positive since February.

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Employment up in Marion - - December 30, 2011

UF survey: Florida Consumer Sentiment jumps in December

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Consumer Sentiment among Floridians rose three points to 69 in December, reflecting a cautious optimism in the economy, according to a recent University of Florida survey. Though the latest figure is only one point below the level set in December 2010, it also marks the highest rank in the past nine months.

The index used by UF researchers in the survey is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2; the highest is 150.

Consumer Sentiment in December shot up in four of the five indexes used by survey takers, and declined in only one. The index that reveals whether Floridians think their personal finances have improved from a year ago rose one point to 53. Another showed their overall expectations in the soundness of the U.S. economy jumped six points to 59. Confidence in the economy’s performance over the next five years also rose — this time three points to 71. Finally, the overall perception of survey takers that the present is a good time to buy “big ticket” items, such as washing machines and laptops — went up sharply by seven points to 85.

The only index to show dropping confidence was an expectation of a drop in personal finances a year from now, declining two points to 78.

Taken as a whole, the UF survey reflects a changing mood that matches growing confidence across the nation, said Chris McCarty, director of UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. In addition, he added, there are factors in the Florida economy that were interpreted as positive by both younger and older respondents. Men were more positive than women by a margin of 71 points to 67.

“Floridians are most likely optimistic about continued improvement in the employment situation,” McCarty said. The decline in unemployment in November was .4 percent to 10 percent. The drop marked the first time in many months that economic sectors other than tourism led the way in employment increases. McCarty noted that employers in trade, transportation and utilities employed 34,800 more workers from October to November. However, he cautioned that many of these new jobs were in retail trade and may only reflect holiday seasonal hiring, which could disappear in early 2012.

McCarty also cited several other reasons for the change in mood. Retailers are offering big seasonal discounts to shoppers and mortgage interest rates are low. Housing prices may have “bottomed out” for a while, he said, hovering about around $130,100 for a single-family home. Gas prices are down, too. A gallon cost about 15 cents less than it did in November, though prices are expected to rise in 2012.

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UF survey: Florida Consumer Sentiment jumps in December -  University of Florida News - December 27, 2011

More on this topic:

Consumer Sentiment in Florida jumps to a 9-month high - Sun-Sentinel - December 27, 2011

Survey of Consumer Sentiment shows Floridians ‘modestly upbeat' - - December 27, 2011

Consumer Sentiment jumps in December - Miami Herald - December 27, 2011

Oddly, consumers feeling better - Miami Herald - December 28, 2011

UF: Florida Consumers Look to 2012 with Some Optimism - Sunshine State News - December 29, 2011


The Sun Belt's Comeback

Along with the oft-pronounced, desperately wished for death of the suburbs, no demographic narrative thrills the mainstream news media more than the decline of the Sun Belt, the country’s southern rim extending from the Carolinas to California. Since the housing bubble collapse in 2007, commentators have heralded “the end of the Sun Belt boom.”

Yet this assertion is largely exaggerated, particularly since the big brass buckle in the middle of the Sun Belt, Texas, has thrived throughout the recession. California, of course, has done far worse, but its slow population growth and harsh regulatory environment align it more with the Northeast than with its sunny neighbors.

Moreover, the Sun Belt is poised for a recovery, according to the most recent economic and demographic data. Even such hard-hit states as Arizona and most impressively Arizona appear to be making an unexpected, and largely unheralded, recovery.

Take Florida. The Sunshine State may have experienced rapid population loss during 2008 and 2009, but the just-released 2011 Census estimates show a remarkable turnaround, with the state adding 119,000 domestic migrants last year. This may be less than half the gains in 2004 and 2005, when the in-migration reached nearly 250,000, but it is close to levels enjoyed a decade ago.

The big winners in terms of growth were in the South, with Texas, Florida and North Carolina as the leading in-migration states. Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Virginia also ranked in the top 10. Overall, the Southern states reaped 95% of the inter-regional net domestic migration (people moving from one state to another). Arizona, another state widely written off, enjoyed an 11th place finish, with a net gain over 13,000.

Looking forward, some of the “bubble states” appear to be taking a lesson from Texas and are reconsidering their former growth formula, which relied far too much on tourism, retirees and housing construction. “We know the business model has to change from just tourism and retirees,” notes Chris McCarty, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida. “We need to make a modification in our approach and now there’s a desire to do something about it.”

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The Sun Belt's Comeback - Forbes - December 22, 2011

USA sees 'flattest' growth in population since 1940s

The recession may be officially over, but its impact continues to reverberate as the nation experiences its most sluggish population growth since the 1940s.

The U.S. population grew 0.7% to 311.6 million in the year that ended July 1, even slower than at the height of the recession when the population grew 0.9%, according to new Census estimates. "The nation's overall growth rate is now at its lowest point since before the Baby Boom,'' Census Bureau Director Robert Groves said.

Many Sun Belt states that were hit hard by the housing collapse have not regained their footing — except for Florida, which is showing glimmers of a recovery. For the first time since the mid-2000s, the state is gaining more people from other states than it is losing. The state grew 1.2% to 19.1 million. "Florida is growing as much as it had in 2005-06," said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution.

The Census estimates are more than double what Florida demographers had estimated, based on electrical hook-ups. "It could be that people are filling up vacant units that had electric hook-ups already," said Scott Cody, demographer with the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

The discrepancy could also mean that more people are living under one roof and therefore not in need of new power connections. "It could be that people come down and are moving in to an existing household," Cody said.

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USA sees 'flattest' growth in population since 1940s - USA Today - December 21, 2011

Census shows fewer seniors in some South Florida cities

South Florida, which 40 years ago gave birth to senior citizen icons such as the early bird special and condo commando, is a retirement mecca no more, according to new Census statistics released Wednesday.

Broward County lost 4 percent of its 65-plus population between 2000 and 2010, the Census reported, while Palm Beach County gained a modest 9 percent.

"As we have become a congested urban environment, we have become less attractive to retirees," said Dick Ogburn, an analyst with the South Florida Regional Planning Council.

The Sunshine State still has appeal, however, retaining the highest percentage of senior residents in the country, with 17.3 percent older than age 65 in 2010.

Fourteen Broward cities lost a total of 11,685 senior residents in the past decade, led by Hallandale Beach with a 24 percent decrease and Tamarac with 21 percent. Among cities with the largest senior populations in Palm Beach County, Boca Raton gained 19 percent in its 65-and-older residents, while Boynton Beach lost 7 percent and Delray Beach, 8 percent.

Ogburn has been predicting the shift for the past 20 years. In the previous decade, from 1990 to 2000, Palm Beach County's 65-plus population grew 25 percent while Broward's basically flatlined, with a 1.4 percent increase.

Ogburn suspects the two counties never will return to their retirement migration heydays of the 1950s through '70s, when thousands of transplants poured into newly built condo complexes each year. While nice weather and good medical care are important, retirees looking to relocate also seek affordable housing, light traffic and low crime, experts agree.

When that changes, they either stop arriving or move on to other communities that offer those amenities, said Scott Cody, demographer for the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida.

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Census shows fewer seniors in some South Florida cities - Sun-Sentinel - November 30, 2011