Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

After years in doldrums, Florida's sense of well-being is soaring among states

What might be the best indicator yet in 2017 that Florida is rising fast when compared to other states?

It's not unemployment rate. Florida's jobless rate is 4.9 percent, a bit above the national 4.7 percent rate. It's not state GDP. Florida's growth rate in real gross domestic product, 3.6 percent, most recently ranked 29th among states. Nor is it household income. Florida still ranks poorly among states on that count.

The answer is "well-being." That sounds new-age vague but stick with me. The Gallup polling organization annually measures each state for well-being, composed of a broad gauge of five factors: life purpose, social engagement, financial security, sense of community and physical health. In order, these factors help measure whether people approach their lives with goals in mind; whether they have supportive relationships; manage their financial life to minimize stress; like where they live and feel safe and, finally, experience good health.

The bad news is Florida did not crack the top ten states for well-being in Gallup's new survey. Hawaii once again took the top slot in the survey, followed by Alaska and, yes, South Dakota. In fact seven of the top ten states are western states.

The good news is Florida's been rising quickly over the past six years. That upswing makes it one of the few U.S. states marking bold gains in well-being in a country where the standings of many states change little over the years.

In the latest Gallup "State of American Well-Being" survey, Florida ranked 11th, inches behind Texas at No. 10. What is so striking is that Florida ranked 42nd in this same poll in 2011, meaning the Sunshine State has leapfrogged 31 other states in the past six years. A pretty dazzling accomplishment.

"Florida bucks the low well-being trend in the South, ranking among the top 12 states in well-being for the second year in a row," Gallup stated.

What on earth does a "well-being" ranking have to do with the Florida economy or the business community? Everything.

Consider these annual Gallup "well-being" assessments by a different name: Quality of life.

That's a phrase I hear almost every day in meetings with business leaders, economic development officials, entrepreneurs, small business owners, mayors and the broader working population of Tampa Bay.

Sure, living in Florida has its warts. The schools are still mediocre. Wages are too low. Career opportunities are still too thin. The state leadership too often seems simple-minded and focused on petty issues. Housing prices are outstripping the ability of many residents to afford a home. Traffic can be nasty.

But no place is ideal. Listen carefully to those who have moved here from another state. They say the weather was lousy. State taxes were too high. People are leaving. And Florida, you just don't know how bad traffic can be up north.

I happened to speak with an ex-Wall Streeter this past week named Gerry Coughlin who was recruited here from up north to work in money management for Jeff Vinik. When that ended Coughlin set up his own financial business in downtown Tampa (which Vinik recently invested in). Now Coughlin calls himself a "converted Tampanian" and wants to pitch this area's quality of life — there's that phrase again — to his former Wall Street peers.

I hear versions of this story often.

When companies consider relocating or expanding, they investigate states and metro areas for a few key attributes.

Is this a place company workers will want to live, build their careers and grow families? Is there a quality workforce there from which to hire talented people? Is the cost of living and running a business reasonable? Is there decent mass transit so employees can get to work? And (wait for it) is the quality of life — the natural surroundings, the beaches and water, the weather, the culture (from museums to music), variety of entertainment (including sports teams) — worthy of investing in as the next corporate expansion?

So what's changed? Why is Florida rising faster in the well-being ranks than most states?

In the latest data, Florida ranked an impressive 2nd, 6th and 8th among states in the categories of "social," "purpose" in life and "physical" health.

Where Florida still lags is in the "financial" category, ranking 34th — suggesting people in this state are still stressing over making ends meet — and finally ranking a middle-of-the-pack 24th in the category of "community" (liking or taking pride in where you live).

We ain't perfect. Even No. 1 Hawaii can suffer island fever at times.

But in terms of well-being, Florida's on an upswing. Well done.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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