Florida’s economy has gained momentum in the past year, with Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties helping the state on its slow trek to recovering from the devastating Great Recession, according to an analysis released Friday by the Wells Fargo Economic Group.
“All indications point to stronger gains this year,” Wells Fargo senior economist Mark Vitner said, with more companies “expanding their operations or relocating facilities to the state.”
Hiring has especially picked up in the Miami-Dade area, Vitner said during Friday’s Wells Fargo Economic Conference Call. “We’re seeing more people join the job force,” he said.
Broward and Palm Beach counties also are adding jobs, although not at as high a rate as Miami-Dade, Vitner said. “Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach have seen much more modest improvement,” the economist said.
Broward added 2,100 manufacturing jobs in the last year — more than any other Florida metro area, according to state statistics. Broward’s unemployment rate fell to 7.2 percent in April, while Palm Beach County’s dropped to 8.5 percent
But even with the recent economic good news, the state and South Florida haven’t completely recovered from economic bad times — that will take a couple of years more, Vitner added.
It may take even longer, said Jorge Salazar-Carrillo, an economics professor who directs the Center of Economic Research at Florida International University.
“I see a slower pace of growth than what Wells Fargo is expecting,” he said. “I think we are inching forward.”
April’s jobs report may have painted too upbeat a picture as it didn’t take into account that South Florida’s tourist season was ending and probably more workers have since lost seasonal jobs, Salazar-Carrillo said.
The entire state’s economic recovery has been slower “than what we would like,” added Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness.
“The state is more tortoise than hare right now. Still, we know how the story ends — the tortoise wins the race,” Snaith said.
Palm Beach County is one of the hot spots to what Vitner called an expanding “life science industry” that is still in its infancy. Florida has become a leader in the new industry — to the point some biomedical companies are leaving California and other states to settle in the Sunshine State, he added.
“They’re very attracted to going to something new — a building that doesn’t need to be retrofitted,” Vitner said. “I think it is easier. And the cost of living is cheaper here. It’s a real winner for the state.”
He noted that Palm Beach County is home to the Scripps Research Institute and the Max Planck Florida Institute.
Other good signs: Florida is exporting more goods — South Florida is helping lead that trend — while the Sunshine State is second only to Texas in attracting new residents, Vitner said, quoting U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Most of Florida’s new residents are younger people coming here to work, he noted.
Retirees are also buying homes, Vitner said.
“Florida is a bargain again,” he said, with some retirees buying homes in Florida and not worrying about selling their current houses, “because homes are so cheap here. They figure they can sell their [current] home later.”