Economic yearbook 2009
With housing at a standstill, a diversification effort forges ahead.
Port St. Lucie / St. Lucie County
William Pittenger, Seacoast National Bank’s senior vice president and chief real estate economist, projects that the new housing market in Indian River, Martin and Palm Beach counties will reach equilibrium this year while St. Lucie, where cheaper land led to more building, won’t reach equilibrium until 2010. Things are so gloomy in St. Lucie County, home to the fastest-growing large city (Port St. Lucie) in the nation in 2004, that one county commissioner recently proposed declaring a state of emergency so that the county could tap money reserved for handling natural disasters to do jobs-creating public works. St. Lucie unemployment is the highest in the Treasure Coast at 12%. The sunny side: The county’s incentive-backed diversification forges ahead. Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, and 190 jobs it has promised, opened this year, and the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute-Florida, which has promised 200 jobs, breaks ground this year. The Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County works with an offshoot of the Alfred Mann Foundation to find tenants for a huge Mann Research Center being developed. “We’re booming,” says council President Larry Pelton. Meanwhile, the housing market is finding an upside as homes fall toward the low $100,000s and return to the affordability for which St. Lucie was famous.
Business to Watch
» To staff a call center and other needs, Liberty Medical, a subsidiary of Medco Health Solutions and a major by-mail supplier of medical products, is hiring 800 to add to the 1,800 it already has in Port St. Lucie. Liberty, serving 4 million customers, supplies products for diabetics.
People to Watch
» Shirley Pomponi, executive director of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce and a veteran of more than 300 submersible dives, is leading a $45-million renovation and new-construction project at the campus while scientists there continue work on many fronts: Surveying the Pacific bottom, red drum aquaculture, drug discovery, discovering and mapping deep-water Atlantic reefs. Harbor Branch merged into FAU in 2007. The scientists’ work includes developing anti-cancer compounds found in marine sponges. “We have three compounds we’re focusing on right now that are very exciting,” Pomponi says.
Okeechobee County ?
Business to Watch
In a lightly populated county with a 10.7% unemployment rate, all jobs are welcome. The largest recent hiring: Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened an Okeechobee location in February.