2019 Economic Outlook
Workforce availability, traffic and environmental concerns
Regional Issues ...
- Workforce Availability: Training programs are ramping up to help employers find workers, as unemployment ranges from 2.8% in Broward to 3.9% in Indian River. In October, Indian River State College, for example, received a $1.53-million state grant to train up to 140 workers a year for jobs averaging $44,000 a year in the aviation and marine industries. At the time, the two industries had 300 unfilled high-wage jobs on the Treasure Coast. The Broward public school district found itself so short of substitute teachers — 18% of classrooms in need of a sub didn’t have one — it combined in November with Broward College to offer a one-day program to certify any Broward College student with at least 60 credit hours as a substitute teacher.
- Traffic Congestion: Southeast Florida regularly ranks among the worst regions for traffic in the nation. A sign of how tired commuters have become: In November, Broward voters endorsed raising the sales tax a percentage point to 7% — $15.6 billion over 30 years — to pay for road improvements and light rail.
- Environment: Between algal blooms in Lake Okeechobee and the Indian River Lagoon and a rare red tide on the Atlantic Coast, water-quality issues have the attention of area political and business leaders. Even areas not impacted by the troubled waters still find they have to address perceptions from prospective tourists.
- Developable Land: How scarce is land? A lake at I-595 and Florida’s Turnpike that was created in the 1960s and 1970s to provide fill for road and airport construction is now assessed at $10 million. The owner is filling in part of it to create an industrial site that’s under contract for $37.5 million, says Colliers broker Steven Wasserman. Farther south near Hallandale, a developer filled a 40-acre lake to house a 500,000-sq.-ft. industrial building. “You’re seeing it more and more because there’s less and less dry land,” Wasserman says.
County Business Briefs
- INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — The years-long saga of Vero Beach’s effort to sell its municipal electric utility to FPL closes following approval of the deal from state regulators. FPL pays $185 million to acquire the utility and its 35,000 customers in Indian River County. Locals have complained for years that they pay too much for power from their small governmentrun utility. Typical residential customers are expected to see their bills drop by roughly $25 a month.
- MARTIN COUNTY — The new municipality of Indiantown marks its first year since it incorporated and opened itself for greater economic development. Meanwhile, the eastern part of the county sees its vital Kanner Highway being expanded from Stuart to I-95 with a future expansion on the west side of I-95 coming. An expansion of Florida’s Turnpike north into St. Lucie County is planned.
- OKEECHOBEE COUNTY — Among 550 small economies nationally, Okeechobee County stands out for the wrong reasons. It’s eighth in food stamps per capita and ranks near the bottom in annual earnings. Population growth is sluggish, economic growth nil, home construction lacking and the anemic tax base strains government and schools. Every public school student qualifies for a free school meal. Many young people go elsewhere for opportunity. Those who stay have little beyond low-wage work. The county is trying to turn a new page. Government and private companies have funded creation of Okeechobee County Economic Development Corp. to help existing industry and attract new ones. A priority is hiring a full-time executive and developing a modern industrial park. “If nothing is done to reverse the downward economic slide, within 10 years the county will become one of the poorest in Florida,” economic development consultant Bill Fruth, of Policom in Palm City, told local leaders.
- ST. LUCIE COUNTY — The strength of St. Lucie’s new-home development market was in evidence as the Tradition development reclaimed its spot atop the list of the region’s bestselling new single-family communities, besting runner-up Lennar’s AquaBella in Miami-Dade. Tradition’s pace of 352 annual housing starts represented a 31% increase from the second quarter while its 316 closings was up slightly from the earlier quarter, according to research firm Metrostudy. “With the land controlled by GL Homes and Mattamy, consisting of thousands of lots, the community is nowhere near built out,” says Metrostudy regional director David Cobb. Port St. Lucie, alone in the Treasure Coast, ranks in the top five cities in Florida with the best income equality, according to HomeArea.com.
Read more in our January issue.
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