A Boost for Tourism
Tourism has rebounded to near-record levels throughout southeast Florida. From Palm Beach County to Key West, occupancy rates are up over last year, as are visitor totals and tourist spending. Analysts attribute much of that to a weak dollar, which has lured Europeans and Canadians here while making Florida and other domestic vacation destinations more attractive to U.S. travelers. "It's the double whammy," says Chase Burritt, managing partner of Burritt Associates, a Fort Pierce-based firm specializing in resort development and analysis. "Foreign travel is strong, and Americans are opting to stay closer to home."
In Miami-Dade a number of high-end resort properties have come online, including a new Four Seasons and a Ritz-Carlton. In Broward, the new Queen Mary 2 cruise ship -- the world's largest and most expensive -- arrived at Port Everglades following its maiden voyage. In fiscal year 2003, Palm Beach County recorded a 12% jump in hotel guests from a year earlier.
But while the tourism industry creates plenty of low-paying service jobs, southeast Florida has struggled to attract major corporate relocations and expansions. High housing costs, paralyzing traffic and poor schools in some areas are often cited as the region's greatest drawbacks. A growing land squeeze in the region's western fringes won't help.
Meanwhile, the continued arrival of Latin American immigrants and low-skilled domestic workers places a greater burden on infrastructure, particularly in Miami-Dade.
Major Trend: Miami remains the poorest large city in the nation, but city leaders believe its future lies in its crowded, overlooked urban core. From the Brickell Avenue financial district south of downtown to the Design District some 50 blocks to the north, central Miami is a hotbed of revitalization and high-rise condo construction. Much of it is centered around the $370-million performing arts complex due to open in late 2005. Planners are hoping for a "24-hour city" where residents live, work and play within a compact urban zone.
Business to Watch: Magic Johnson's Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, which scours the country for gentrification projects in disadvantaged and undervalued neighborhoods, has long eyed Miami-Dade. He recently signed on as a major investment partner in Downtown Dadeland, a $172-million mixed-use community in Kendall. He already owns a Starbucks north of downtown Miami -- a long-neglected area that some say is Johnson's ideal target market.
Person to Watch: Tales of abuse and corruption have long marred Miami's police department. New police Chief John F. Timoney, an outsider who previously headed the force in Philadelphia, arrived a year ago promising to cut through the politics and cronyism to bring real change. But Timoney is now battling allegations of police misconduct at the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit held here last November. Meanwhile, some officers are retiring early to avoid Timoney's shake-up.
Major Trend: When Latin American economies turn soft -- as they have currently -- demographers note an influx of immigrants to Miami-Dade. Many are eager to stash their cash in stable U.S. investments, spurring a boom in high-end condo construction. A rash are in the works across the Miami-Dade skyline. But many other immigrants arrive here with little education and skills seeking low-end jobs. The result is added pressure on the county's already overtaxed school, public health and transportation systems.
Business to Watch: After being sold a year ago by British parent Diageo to a group of investors, Burger King Corp. announced it would remain headquartered in Miami, where it was founded 50 years ago. But the company has struggled to revive falling same-store sales. President Bob Nilsen resigned in February after less than a year on the job. Meanwhile, some of the company's largest franchisees are unhappy with the pace of long-promised marketing changes, leading some to wonder if its new owners will once again shake up top management or even sell the world's No. 2 fast-food chain once again.
Major Trend: Fort Lauderdale has long prided itself on being a clean, efficient, lower-cost alternative to Miami as a south Florida base for major corporate headquarters. But like its southern neighbor, this city of 152,000 is learning that it must work to keep its largest corporate citizens. Vanguard Car Rental USA, the company formed from the assets of the bankrupt Alamo Rent A Car and National Car Rental, announced earlier this year it was moving to Tulsa, Okla. In 2001, Extended Stay America bolted the city with its 200 jobs; a year ago, neighboring Lauderdale Lakes lost The Sports Authority and nearly 500 jobs.
Person to Watch: Terry Stiles, chairman and CEO of Stiles Corp., already controls over a million square feet of property in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and he shows no sign of slowing down. He's now busy touting high-rise residential development in the city's central core as the antidote to Broward's suburban sprawl and commuter gridlock.
Business to Watch: With high-paying jobs and an aggressive business plan, network security firm CyberGuard is the kind of high-tech company city officials would like to cultivate. Revenue and earnings are up sharply, and the company hasn't been shy about acquiring smaller firms that will help it expand its market.
Major Trend: Some bemoan the county's reliance on tourism, but the sector is driving Broward's economy. Visitor totals, tourism spending and average room rates were at near-record levels last year. Much of that growth is being driven by Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which last year was the nation's fastest-growing airport thanks to its aggressive targeting of low-cost startup carriers such as JetBlue Airways, Spirit Airlines and Delta's low-cost affiliate, Song.
Business to Watch: Fort Lauderdale-based Wannado Entertainment, a subsidiary of Mexican theme park giant CIE, hopes to give parents a new reason for going to the mall. The company plans to open massive child-oriented play parks within or adjacent to some of the nation's largest outdoor shopping malls. Its first project, Wannado City, opens this year at Sawgrass Mills in Sunrise. Executives describe it as a child-scale city complete with its own decommissioned DC-9 airliner.
WEST PALM BEACH
Major Trend: West Palm Beach hopes to leverage the arrival of La Jolla, Calif.-based Scripps Research Institute. Although Scripps will set up a few miles north of here, city officials believe the world-renowned non-profit biomedical research facility can help it diversify its economy by attracting other biotech startups. Indeed, the state is betting more than $350 million in incentive funds (and the county another $200 million or so) that it does just that. West Palm Beach's high housing costs, a potential stumbling block, are likely to spur even more residential development to the north.
Business to Watch: In addition to the 60 broadcast stations it owns, West Palm Beach-based Paxson Communications operates PAX TV, a nationwide broadcast network dedicated to family-oriented entertainment. Ratings are up, and the company expects to expand programming this year.
Major Trend: Not long ago Boca Raton was a sleepy community where residents of Miami-Dade fled after growing weary of the commuter gridlock down south. Not anymore. Traffic is routinely cited as the No. 1 complaint of this city of 75,000. Earlier this year residents, business leaders and city officials attended a "traffic summit" at the Boca campus of Florida Atlantic University to hash out the crisis. Among the suggestions: New funding for public transportation, roadway improvements and measures to restrict automobile usage at peak travel times.
Business to Watch: American Media, publisher of the Weekly World News, the National Enquirer and other tabloid papers, has been shifting some operations to its New York office -- first the editorial staff of its second-largest paper, the Star, and then its mini-magazine division. Some are worried that the media giant, which was forced to abandon its Boca Raton headquarters after a 2001 anthrax attack, might leave south Florida entirely.
Palm Beach County
Major Trend: Despite the worldwide telecom slump, the Boca Raton/West Palm Beach metropolitan area ranked fourth nationally in a recent study of economic performance. The study, by the non-profit Milken Institute, was based on employment, average salaries and technology growth. The region received high marks for attracting high-tech startups at a time when other areas recorded sharp cutbacks in the sector.
Person to Watch: Last year, former Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan was named president of Florida Atlantic University. His arrival comes as the 40-year-old school struggles to raise its profile within the crowded State University System. Brogan's first challenge may establish his legacy: Leveraging the arrival of Scripps Research Institute to land more funding and top-notch faculty and
Major Trend: Officials in the Florida Keys must do more to protect their fragile natural areas. In its annual review of critical habitat, the Florida Cabinet has faulted the county for failing to adequately safeguard hardwood hammocks and other protected areas. Officials are worried that the ruling could lead to a reduction in building permits in a region already boasting one of the state's strictest growth management plans.
Business to Watch: Cheeca Lodge, the venerable upscale resort in Islamorada, has caught the hotel/condo fever. Earlier this year, after a $15-million makeover, the 55-year-old property announced it would convert close to half of its 202 rooms and suites to condo units. Owners will have the option of placing their condos into the pool of available hotel rooms. Will other properties in the Florida Keys follow its lead?
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