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Robert Trigaux

Alex Sink: Florida economy's looking up but new data hint many people living on the edge

20

January

alexsinkap.jpg

After the 2010 election, still trying to make a difference. Alex Sink was the Democratic nominee for Governor of Florida and faced Republican nominee Rick Scott in the 2010 state gubernatorial election, losing to Scott by a 1 percent margin. AP photo.

Wake up and good morning. Alex Sink came within a whisker of becoming Florida's governor, losing to Rick Scott and his personal wallet, but she's still trying to influence the direction of the Sunshine State economy.

In Tampa, Sink's Florida Next Foundation, described as a non-partisan policy organization, on Thursday unveiled a poll that -- despite more promising signs lately for the state economy -- clearly pointed to Florida's glass being half empty. The poll, conducted Dec. 19 and Dec. 20 by Florida Next Foundation and JZ Analytics, found that eight in 10 Floridians think the state’s economy is worsening or stuck in neutral. It found nearly six in 10 think Florida’s quality of life is just fair or poor. And almost half of 25-to-54-year-olds fear losing their jobs (though I'd guess much of the nation still feels that, too).

So I asked Sink: What's up with such dour survey findings at a time when so many economic indicators -- falling unemployment, improving outlook for housing -- seem to suggest Florida's economic health is on the upswing, even if it is modest?

"I was concerned about the press release," Sink concedes, citing similar signals of a strengthening business climate. The poll results, she says, are "reflective of the ongoing uncertainty in this economy."

Other results from the poll: 73 percent believe students aren’t being prepared for a 21st century economy; 65 percent of young adult respondents would consider leaving Florida for better opportunities elsewhere; and the poll suggests the loss of a job for many Floridians could have catastrophic consequences since nearly six out of 10 Floridians have savings of just one month’s salary, or less.

Sink's poll offers one potential bright spot: A belief among respondents that the state’s small business base could provide some relief. Seven in 10 agree that Florida’s small businesses would increase their presence in the state and boost their hires if government offered them incentives. By contrast, slightly more than half of Floridians believe providing incentives to large businesses would have a similar effect on hiring.

In our conversation, Sink touched on a range of points. She embraces the growing entrepreneurial activity in the state. In her travels around the state -- part of her work for Hyde Park Capital Partners in Tampa is to find deserving businesses in need of fresh capital, which Hyde Park can help deliver -- Sink says she sees more young people willing to take risks to start businesses and more metro areas willing to empower younger adults.

Still, she worries about the sheer numbers of Floridians living paycheck to paycheck or teetering with only enough savings to survive for 30 days.

Her Florida Next Foundation is still getting its feet wet, so it's unclear what role it can play in encouraging change in the state economy. Here's a list of its board members.

"We want to be a catalyst for generating thought," says Sink, "for lifting up research and data and information, and putting it in the hands of local leaders who can keep the energy and momentum towards building out a sustainable, diversified economy."

Hmmm. That sounds awfully big picture... like something a governor might say. Is Sink still a serious Democratic candidate in the next election against Gov. Rick Scott? She's surely pondering that option, though political watchers already are starting to build an early list of other potential candidates that includes Charlie Crist. Any Democratic candidate facing Scott -- despite his low popularity as governor -- will face an incumbent with an enormous personal fortune and, it seems so far at least, an improving Florida economy he can take credit for.

Stay tuned.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

[Last modified: Friday, January 20, 2012 7:17am]

    

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