The question from Florida Chamber of Commerce chief economist Jerry Parrish seemed innocent enough for the quarterly board meeting of Enterprise Florida, the state’s business and government partnership: How many counties have more jobs now than before the recession?
The audience of executives was stumped on Thursday. Parrish had to ask it twice and then someone volunteered an answer: 50.
"Wrong," responded Parrish.
The real number of counties that have more jobs today than they had before the Great Recession "is stunning," he admitted to the group that has pegged its future and fate on job creation in Florida.
The number is 31.
That leaves 36 counties that still have not returned to pre-recession employment levels, a sign of an uneven and incomplete recovery in an era when Gov. Rick Scott has made job creation his singular focus.
"Florida’s recession started a lot earlier, ended a lot later," Parrish told the crowd in the ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Tallahassee. "It was double the depth" of the national average.
What’s more troubling, he warned, is that his projections are that Florida will produce 54,000 fewer jobs in 2017 than it did in 2016. An interactive map on the Florida Chamber website shows that the 215,400 jobs created to date is lower than last year’s level of 244,000 as every county but nine has seen job losses. The metro areas of South Florida, Orlando and Tampa Bay have been the only bright spots in terms of job growth.
"It’s a concerning trend," Parrish admitted. "We may have peaked."
This is the hard data Enterprise Florida faces as it fights for its survival. The budget handed to Scott on Wednesday includes $16 million in funding for Enterprise Florida in the 2017-18 fiscal year, down from $23.5 million for the current year. The biggest reduction would be in the agency’s marketing programs which attempt to make companies aware of Florida’s business climate.
For the second year in a row, legislators rejected the governor’s request for $200 million for the Quick Action Closing Fund to award up-front incentives for major corporate relocations and expansions. House Speaker Richard Corcoran has called the incentives "corporate welfare."
Parrish acknowledged that part of Florida’s problem is its lack of industry diversification, ranking 24th nationwide. The benefits of diversification are that while some sectors suffer, others remain strong, he said.
Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber said this data doesn’t go over well when they take their slide show on the road to community groups around the state.
"When they see the numbers that their community has fewer jobs today than they had 10 years ago, you have people almost getting in fistfights," he said. "They didn’t know this number ... People are realizing that this data is real."
He noted that the chamber keeps track of data on a scorecard on its web site. "Only 54 percent of our third graders are reading at grade level," he added.
There is nothing new about this data, however. An economic analysis compiled for the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau by Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center and published in October showed that in 40 of the state’s 67 counties there were fewer people working in 2015 than were working in 2007. Only South and Central Florida’s metropolitan areas have seen employment levels return to — or exceed — pre-recession levels.
The analysis also found that although many jobs have returned since the Great Recession, the new jobs are paying workers significantly less than the jobs they replaced, and the rebound has been dramatically uneven across the state. From 2007 to 2015, only 7 of the 39 Florida counties with reliable data experienced an increase in household income.
Stan Connally, president and CEO of Gulf Power and vice president of Enterprise Florida, noted that many at the board meeting had their "fingerprints" on the economic recovery that has taken place to restore many of the jobs.
But, he asked: "Can we do more under our watch? There are macro economic things that are not under our control, but I think a lot goes back to leadership." He urged them all to stay engaged.
Read more from our analysis here: Recession still has Floridians reeling and anxious about election