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Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Editorials

Florida’s economic recovery merits applause and caution

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Prospects are once again bright in Florida. The housing crash and recession that turned the state’s economic world topsy-turvy are over.

Once again a warm climate, low taxes and an air of opportunity combine to get folks moving here. 

Now that the economic emergency has passed, we Florida residents would be well advised to think about how best to accommodate this impressive growth. 

State leaders, who jettisoned growth management regulations during the recession, need to remember those rules were developed to prevent runaway growth from generating massive bills for taxpayers. The state already has a backlog of transportation needs and other growth-related challenges.

From 2010 to 2012, Florida ranked sixth among the states in percentage of population growth. But Florida’s gain of 2.75 percent is larger than it seems.  In total numbers, Florida grew by about a half-million people. Only Texas and California added more. New York was a distant fourth.     

The return of growth should be good news — if the state ensures growth is accompanied by an adequate transportation network and other services and that the state’s natural resources, which underpin its appeal, are not sacrificed.

Further, the bottoming out of Florida’s economy during the recession should serve as a forceful reminder to lawmakers and other policy-makers that diversifying the economy is more important than ever.

For too many decades, the state’s economy relied on homebuilding. The recession — and the ensuing collapse of the housing market, accompanied by a record number of foreclosures — proved that the state must not be a one-trick pony.

This is why Gov. Rick Scott and other leaders are right to push manufacturing, industrial and technical jobs.

The good news for homeowners is that Florida’s home values are at their highest since October 2008. And the unemployment rate is at its lowest since that same month four and a half years ago.

Florida’s jobless rate fell even with the national rate in late winter, and this spring has edged even lower. Cities are leading the rebound. 

The unemployment rate in the hard-hit Tampa metro area is now a little better than the state rate. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity reports that 19 of the state’s 22 metro areas added jobs from March 2012 to March 2013. This area added 35,900, which was the largest gain in the state.

Significant wage increases for manual laborers continue to seem unlikely. Like it or not, the economic future belongs to those with valuable education or skills.    

Still, a variety of opportunities are locally available. Jobs in financial activities were up, professional and business services were up, education and health services were up.  Now that more people can afford to travel, it’s no surprise that leisure and hospitality jobs were up. Construction even showed modest gains.

Manufacturing jobs were down (we hope Gov. Rick Scott’s new tax break for manufacturers helps change that), as were jobs in government and information.  But the news overall was extremely encouraging.

Matching the increasing pace of growth must be heightened concern for the many challenges of prosperity, which the recession reminded us, are the very best challenges to have.

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