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A look back - and ahead - at the economy in Southwest Florida

Forecast | REAL ESTATE

DAVID HITCHCOCK
Associate Broker, Coldwell Banker Commerce Saunders Real Estate
At Large Director, The Realtors Land Institute, Lakeland

“The residential land market continues to heat up and is dependent upon proximity to the major employment centers of Tampa and Orlando. However, the close-in properties have been sold, and land buyers are looking at the B areas in Polk, Lake, Pasco and Osceola counties. The U.S. 27 corridor south of Interstate 4 at exit 55 is seeing tremendous growth. A recent development map for the city of Haines City showed approvals for 5,520 single-family and 2,246 multi-family residential units. This is enough housing for over 18,000 people. The agricultural market in Central Florida is heavily influenced by the citrus industry that is enduring the effects of citrus greening. Currently, there is no cure, but growers are learning how to cope with its effects. This year’s crop estimate is 79 million boxes for 2018-19, up from 44.95 million boxes the year before. If the fruit production continues to increase, it will help stabilize grove prices in Central Florida.”

Forecast | TOURISM

ELLIOTT FALCIONE
Executive Director, Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bradenton

“Following seven years of record-breaking tourism, the Bradenton area, along with other beach destinations along Florida’s west coast, faced some adversity in fall 2018 due to red tide. Our researchers do not forecast a lasting impact on tourism in 2019, and I expect to see tourism statistics rebound, with economic impact climbing back up to the billiondollar mark. We will get there through continued marketing efforts that combat misperceptions about our world-class beaches, ongoing diversification of and growth in accommodation product, with more than 800 additional hotel rooms to be added by 2020, as well as a continued focus on sports and the arts, which are proven economic impact generators.”

Forecast | MANUFACTURING

NEIL KAGAN

Executive Director, Southwest Florida Manufacturers Association, Fort Myers

“Production demands are up, and many companies are hiring at a fast pace. There are even out-of-state companies looking to relocate to this area. We are fortunate to have many organizations that are helping with many manufacturing and business issues such as staffing, tax help, skills training and grants. Organizations such as CareerSource, FGCU, Horizon Counsel and others are a big help. Specifically for the manufacturers is the Southwest Florida Manufacturers Association, whose goal is to link manufacturers with valuable resources that can help to educate, train and legislate.”

Tampa/ Hillsborough County Issues...

Education: On the first day of school in August in Hillsborough County, 159 of the county’s 250 public schools reported malfunctioning air-conditioning systems. The school district’s managers said the district hadn’t accounted for fixing or replacing the A/C systems or a host of other infrastructure needs, saying they needed $3 billion more from the taxpayers. In November, voters obliged, approving a 10-year, half-cent sales tax that’s expected to raise $1.3 billion over the next decade. An estimated $637 million will go for air conditioning.

Leadership: With Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn barred from seeking a third term due to term limits, a “who’s who” of politicos is lining up to run for mayor: Jane Castor, a former Tampa police chief; David Straz Jr., a retired banker; Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner; two Tampa City Council members, Harry Cohen and Mike Suarez; businessman Topher Morrison; and community activist LaVaughn King. Sam Brian Gibbons, the grandson of former U.S. Rep. Sam Gibbons, entered the race but dropped out.

Traffic: With an average commute in the Tampa area nearing 29 minutes, up 2.4 minutes from 2013, Hillsborough County residents approved a 1-cent sales tax for next 30 years with the proceeds — an estimated $276 million per year — to go for transportation improvements. Among the tax’s biggest boosters: Jeff Vinik, whose Strategic Property Partners group is developing the mixed-use Water Street Tampa project downtown. Water Street is projected to build 3,500 residences, nearly doubling the number of housing units downtown.

St. Petersburg / Pinellas County Issues ...

Tropicana Field: The Tampa Bay Rays are investigating a move to an as yet unfunded stadium in Tampa’s Ybor City, and St. Petersburg is talking about how to develop the 86-acre Tropicana Field site if the Rays leave. Among the ideas: Affordable housing; a research and high-tech hub, a riverwalk-like attraction along a widened Booker Creek, a convention center; and a mixed-use development featuring retail, residential and office space.

Leadership: Clearwater’s downtown — where Scientology has its headquarters and owns large portions of the area remains moribund. This fall, voters rejected an effort to change the city’s form of government from the current city manager structure to a strong mayor form. Meanwhile, Bill Horne, Clearwater’s city manager since 2000, plans to retire next year.

HSN: Last year’s $2.6-billion purchase of HSN by rival shopping network QVC continues to have repercussions. HSN cut 350 employees in October as both HSN and QVC, operating under parent company QHX, move away from television and toward podcasts and online videos.

Bradenton / Sarasota Issues...

Traffic: Hoping to boost traffic safety at the busy University Parkway interchange at I-75, the Florida Department of Transportation converted the existing partial cloverleaf junction to a diverging diamond interchange that some local residents feared would confuse drivers. During the first 12 months after the interchange opened in 2017, the diverging diamond saw 13 accidents, down from 28 the year before when the interchange was a partial cloverleaf. The DOT now wants to create a diverging diamond-interchange one exit south at Sarasota’s Fruitville Road.

Redevelopment: A one-time seedy section of Bradenton south of downtown continues to improve and expand. The city’s Village of the Arts, once a neighborhood of rundown bungalows and Florida Cracker-style homes, is now home to nearly 40 businesses, including art galleries, artist studios, restaurants, specialty stores and a craft beer brewery. At 36 acres, the village has evolved into one of the biggest artist colonies along Florida’s west coast.

Fort Myers / Naples Issues...

Algae: Last year, Southwest Florida suffered from both red tide and green algae blooms. Sanibel Island businesses alone reported more than $26 million in revenue lost over the summer and fear the blooms will be back in 2019. “Whether state environmental and health agencies will learn and adapt is the big issue,” says John Cassani, the founding member of Calusa Waterkeeper, a non-profit dedicated to the protection of the Caloosahatchee River and other near-shore waters in Southwest Florida. “The outlook for 2019 is one of hope that state agencies will begin the process of effectively managing nutrient pollution that is the underlying cause of harmful algal blooms and perhaps reinstate the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force that was defunded in 2001.”

Storm Preparedness: Lessons learned from Hurricane Irma, which came ashore Sept. 10, 2017, in Marco Island, continue to guide Collier County emergency officials as they prepare for the next storm. Among the efforts: Adding more fuel storage and generators at gas stations so the stations won’t run out of gas, and, to reduce power outages, working with utilities to replace wooden utility poles with stronger, concrete supports.

County Business Briefs

CITRUS COUNTY —Commissioners oppose a proposal to store arsenic-laced sludge at a limestone quarry near Crystal River. The commissioners fear the material, which dates to the 1960s and originated from a Fort Myers-area water treatment plant, could pollute Citrus waterways, although Fort Myers and state Department of Environmental Protection officials insist the plan is safe.

CHARLOTTE COUNTY —Work is underway to create a pickleball complex at the Charlotte County campus of SouthWestern State College. The facility, to be called PicklePlex of Punta Gorda, will house eight indoor courts, 32 outdoor courts, a fitness center, a restaurant, meeting rooms and enough space to host pickleball tournaments. The first 16 courts should be completed by later this year.

DESOTO COUNTY —The Rosin Arcade, a 30,000-sq.-ft. building in Arcadia’s antique-store district, was sold for $700,000. The property, built in 1926, includes antique stores, 23 apartments and restaurant/bar space. The buyer is Sarasota Trading Company Direct.

  • A 31-acre site in DeSoto County’s Fort Ogden community has sold for $800,000. The property is zoned to become a recreational vehicle resort.

GLADES COUNTY —After opening a manufacturing facility in Moore Haven in 2017, Maxant Buttons expanded by purchasing Mike’s Aluminum Products in 2018. The company, now called Maxant Aluminum Products, produces aluminum buttons and other aluminum products. Moore Haven is also home to Burma Spice, a spice maker that plans to add eight jobs.

HARDEE COUNTY —A bat infestation at the Hardee County Courthouse sickened 13 county employees in September after the employees breathed in fumes and airborne particles from bat droppings. The guano left behind after 1,500 bats were removed from the building in August, has since been removed.

HENDRY COUNTY —The county issued 118 single-family building permits during the first eight months of 2018, more than twice the 57 permits the county issued during the same period in 2017. Growth remains slow: The county’s population is projected to increase just 0.3% annually over the next few years.

HERNANDO COUNTY —Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill will undergo an estimated $38.5-million renovation. Seventy private rooms will be added, bringing the hospital’s bed total to 350. Plans are also underway to expand the hospital’s emergency department.

HIGHLANDS COUNTY —The county’s citrus growers produced 7.9 million boxes of fruit during the 2017-18 growing season, making Highlands the second-ranked citrus-growing county in the state. Polk County growers accounted for 9.2 million boxes of fruit. Highlands has 59,000 acres of citrus land in production, while Polk has 69,000.

PASCO COUNTY —Saint Leo University signed an agreement with Barry University School of Law in Orlando that will allow Saint Leo students to begin studying law at Barry after completing a three-year accelerated curriculum at Saint Leo. Both Saint Leo, based in Pasco County, and Barry are Catholic institutions. Saint Leo has a similar program with Florida State University’s law school.

POLK COUNTY —Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets, which is expanding its headquarters by 200,000 square feet and adding 700 jobs, has a new president: Kevin Murphy, formerly the chain’s senior vice president of retail operations. Meanwhile, Laurie Douglas, Publix’s senior vice president and chief information officer, has taken on an additional role as chief digital officer.

 

Read more in our January issue.

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