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Treasure Coast Economic Indicators

VGTI and Digital Domain get permanent facilities. Real estate continues to be a drag on an area that flew high during the housing boom.

The Treasure Coast

This year saw the official opening of facilities for two government-supported enterprises on the "Research Coast" that promise to create several hundred jobs — entertainment producer Digital Domain Holdings and life science institute VGTI Florida. Every silver lining has its cloud, and in St. Lucie, which flew highest in the boom, that's home building. Don Santos of Santos Construction in Port St. Lucie and a past president of the Treasure Coast Builders Association has the grim statistic: Housing starts are a tenth of what they were at the peak. "In a word, devastating," Santos says. Bankruptcies, closed doors and an exodus of the unemployed ensued. Gail Kavanagh, the recently retired executive director of the Treasure Coast Builders Association, says membership fell to 315 from more than 1,200. But, Santos says of the market, "It has bottomed out and is getting slightly better."

Businesses to Watch

Cracker Boy Boat Works
Cracker Boy Boat Works, which operates service yards, has added employees. [Photo: Cracker Boy Boat Works]

» Cracker Boy Boat Works: The company is small, operating service yards in Riviera Beach and Fort Pierce, where it employs just 13. But because it caters to the middle market and do-it-yourself owners, it has become a bellwether for the marine industry, a critical sector on the Treasure Coast. Cracker Boy's Martin Murphy Sr. says business is up from the "terrible" level in the recession. He has bought a new lift for Fort Pierce and has added a few workers.

St. Lucie Population: 290,384
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.62%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.29% 6.21% 22.31% 32.77% 20.42%
Per Capita Income: $31,217

MSA Dec. 2011 Dec. 2010 % Change Jobless Rate
Port St. Lucie 165,350 165,946 -.4% 11.2%
Sebastian Inlet Vero Beach 55,253 54,022 +2.3% 11.4%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Homes - Single-family, existing-home sales
MSA 2011 Sales 1-Year Change 2011 Price 1-Year Change
Fort Pierce/Port St. Lucie 5,599 -6% $108,200 NC
Source: Florida Realtors; year-end sales, median price

St. Lucie County Consumer Bankruptcies
2010 2011 Change
1,725 1,523 -11.7%
Source: National Bankruptcy Research Center

Stuart/Martin County

Digital Domain
Digital Domain moved into its new 150,000-sq.-ft. facility this year in St. Lucie County. [Photo: Eric Hassert/Scripps Treasure Coast newspapers]

American Energy Innovations in Stuart was founded a year ago to make wind turbine blades for the small and community-based wind power market. Martin County wants more such manufacturing enterprises to lessen its dependence on retirees, real estate and snowbirds. Service, computer support and social media businesses predominate among startups; the building trades remain devastated. American Energy shows how far the county has to go. In January, managing member Phil Catsman was expecting to boost employment significantly above the 40 then working there. But by March it had a major layoff.

Martin Population: 149,984
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.96%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
13.92% 5.31% 17.63% 34.92% 28.22%
Per Capita Income: $59,546


Vero Beach/Indian River County

Vero Beach and Indian River County are second-home havens for wealthy retirees. Hopes for employment growth at major employer Piper Aircraft, now owned by the sultan of Brunei, haven't been realized. Information technology, however, is a growing sector, as are niche businesses such as boat maker Dragonfly Boatworks, which is winning attention with its paddleboard innovations. Founder Mark Castlow says the company employs 10 locally; he hopes to add a few more this summer. The county sees a few dozen new jobs coming from two newcomers, modular barricade company Boston Barricade and U.K.-based software and services company SMI Telecoms. Helene Caseltine, economic development director at the Indian River Chamber of Commerce, says company recruitment deals are in the pipeline.

Businesses to Watch

» INEOS Bio and New Planet Energy: A taxpayer-supported $130-million energy plant, a joint venture of INEOS Bio and New Planet Energy, is projected to be completed this year, producing 8 million gallons of ethanol and six megawatts of electricity per year, enough for 1,400 households, from yard, vegetative and household wastes. It will generate about 50 jobs once it is operational.

Indian River Population: 142,038
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.04%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
15.08% 5.63% 18.20% 32.97% 28.12%
Per Capita Income: $58,160

Okeechobee County

Okeechobee welcomes an Applebee's and a growing niche in sport shooting venues. Example: OK Corral Gun Club started in 2011 and is spread across 80 acres with all manner of ranges in place — including one for cowboy action shooting, says general manager John Smith. A reviving lake has spurred tourism. "You walk into a restaurant, and it's packed," says Terry Burroughs, Chamber of Commerce president. While things are better, Burroughs says, the county isn't "anywhere near where we need to be." The county wants agricultural life sciences, manufacturing and renewable energy companies.

Okeechobee Population: 40,334
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.23%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
19.66% 6.83% 25.15% 31.11% 17.26%
Per Capita Income: $29,452