Jobs key to ending recession
Gulf Power event has upbeat tone
Stimulating job growth, passing aggressive economic incentives and lowering windstorm insurance and property tax rates all are needed to pull Florida out of its worse economic recession since the Great Depression.
Those strategies were among several outlined by economists, politicians and private sector specialists Thursday during Gulf Power’s 2009 Economic Symposium on Thursday in Destin.
The annual conference, attended this year by more than 500 business owners, academics and political leaders, had a decidedly more upbeat tone than the 2008 September conference, when the effects of the recession were first being felt in the Panhandle.
The afternoon session’s keynote speaker, state Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said the Sunshine State’s road to recovery "comes down to three simple words: Jobs for Florida."
Gaetz, chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Florida’s Economy, said the state’s budget "will be balanced and the pressing needs of our schools will be met if the Legislature and private sector work together to create jobs."
Florida’s 10.7 percent unemployment rate — 900,000-plus Floridians out of work — is one of the highest in the nation, and accounts for the waves of foreclosures plaguing the housing market and economy.
Earlier in the day, two leading economists said many indicators are turning positive and pointing toward recovery from the worst recession in decades.
University of West Florida’s economist Rick Harper and James Glassman, an economist with J.P. Morgan, both agreed a sustained but tepid recovery is in progress and should gain momentum this fall and into 2010.
While encouraged by signs of a recovery, Glassman said it may take a full decade before unemployment falls to 5 percent or below.
"We have to get back to full employment before this recovery will start to feel good," he noted.
Harper said one of the new bright spots in the Northwest Florida economy is a significant drop in housing prices, making the region more affordable to new residents.
He also noted that the three major components of the Panhandle’s economy — military, tourism and health care — are providing stability in payroll and job security.
He said Florida’s "massive housing inventory" will be whittled down over the next several years, and that it will take until 2012 to get employment back to its peak in 2007.
"Unemployment in Florida is expected to peak at about 10 percent during the remainder of 2009," Harper said. "And we will see continued sub-par job growth in Florida until sometime in 2011."
At the Gulf Power 2009 Economic Symposium, Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor at large at Fortune Magazine, highlighted some strategies businesses large and small should adopt to take advantage of the changing times.
– Reset priorities to face the new reality that the economy will be less consumer driven.
– Protect your employees, customer relationships and company culture.
– Create new solutions to meet the problems and changing spending habits of your customers.
– Don’t forget to grow your company and develop new leadership.