Make us your home page

The big change: Can Florida grow internally, rely less on newcomers?

One of the deans of the Florida economy held court Friday, forecasting a slowly improving business scene while predicting the Sunshine State will enter an era based more on internal growth and less on recruiting new people from afar.

"In the 1970s, Florida had very few Fortune 500 companies," said Mark Vitner, Wells Fargo senior economist in Charlotte, N.C., who has analyzed Florida ever since the 1980s as a junior economist at Barnett Banks in Jacksonville.

"Now we have many more sizable businesses headquartered or operating in Florida. So more growth should be starting to happen internally here," Vitner said in a 90-minute conference call dedicated to Florida's economic outlook.

One of those internal growth engines in Florida is the life sciences cluster. The industry got its substantive start here when former Gov. Jeb Bush assembled half a billion dollars and secretly recruited California biotech giant Scripps Research to open a research facility on Florida's east coast.

That bold (and expensive) act sparked other big-name biotech organizations — from the Max Planck Institute and Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies to Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute — to expand to Florida.

All that life science activity and the huge recruitment sums have generated few new jobs, Vitner concedes. But he thinks that will soon change. He credits the high caliber of the biotech organizations here for reaching a tipping point that will produce new and better-paying jobs. Internally.

"Life sciences is what everybody's shooting for, and there is a lot of hype," Vitner said.

"It is real in Florida."

If Florida can grow more internally, the state may one day be able to shuck its unfortunate nickname: the Ponzi State. The state was so dubbed for its historical dependence on the wealth of newly arriving people to sustain the costs of the ones already here. "Ponzi State" headlined a 2009 New Yorker magazine story by George Packer (who credits USF history professor Gary Mormino for the Ponzi reference).

The state missed an earlier opportunity to grow internally in the 1980s when IBM developed the personal computer in Boca Raton. Rather than leverage that event, Florida ignored the possibilities and lost them.

Now Florida is fighting to save some of the engineering skills on its Space Coast, as NASA shrinks and private sector space businesses emerge. While the role of Florida in the future space business remains unclear, Vitner says the state is doing all it can.

The economist also identified geographic winners and losers in the coming recovery. Cities like Sebastian (on the East Coast), Naples, Tampa and Miami are on the mend, while Punta Gorda, Daytona and Pensacola are laggards.

Vitner likes what he sees in coastal southwest Florida. When the housing bubble sent area home prices soaring, Midwesterners who had served as prime buyers for that part of the state got priced out of the market.

Not anymore.

"Some people recognize Florida is a bargain again," Vitner says. People are buying housing here and can even do so now without the need to sell their own homes.

So what is Florida's biggest change ahead? Responds Vitner: "We will be less dependent on growth itself."

Contact Robert Trigaux at

The big change: Can Florida grow internally, rely less on newcomers? 05/25/12 [Last modified: Friday, May 25, 2012 11:13pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Federal agencies demand records from SeaWorld theme park


    ORLANDO — Two federal agencies are reportedly demanding financial records from SeaWorld.

    Killer whales Ikaika and Corky participate in behaviors commonly done in the wild during SeaWorld's Killer Whale educational presentation in this photo from Jan. 9. SeaWorld has been subpoenaed by two federal agencies for comments that executives and the company made in August 2014 about the impact from the "Blackfish" documentary. 
[Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS]
  2. Legalized medical marijuana signed into law by Rick Scott

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed into law a broader medical marijuana system for the state, following through on a promise he made earlier this month.

    Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation on Friday that legalizes medical marijuana in Florida.
  3. Line of moms welcome Once Upon A Child to Carrollwood


    CARROLLWOOD — Strollers of all shapes and sizes are lined up in front of the store, and inside, there are racks of children's clothing in every color of the rainbow.

    At Once Upon A Child, you often as many baby strollers outside as you find baby furniture and accessories. It recently opened this location in Carrollwood. Photo by Danielle Hauser
  4. Pastries N Chaat brings North India cuisine to North Tampa


    TAMPA — Pastries N Chaat, a new restaurant offering Indian street food, opened this week near the University of South Florida.

    The menu at Pastries N Chaat includes a large variety of Biriyani, an entree owners say is beloved by millions. Photo courtesy of Pastries N Chaat.
  5. 'Garbage juice' seen as threat to drinking water in Florida Panhandle county


    To Waste Management, the nation's largest handler of garbage, the liquid that winds up at the bottom of a landfill is called "leachate," and it can safely be disposed of in a well that's 4,200 feet deep.

    Three samples that were displayed by Jackson County NAACP President Ronstance Pittman at a public meeting on Waste Management's deep well injection proposal. The sample on the left is full of leachate from the Jackson County landfill, the stuff that would be injected into the well. The sample on the right shows leachate after it's been treated at a wastewater treatment plant. The one in the middle is tap water.