Saturday, January 20, 2018
Business

How's Florida economy doing? Let's give it a C-plus with room to improve

How's the Florida economy doing? I'm feeling generous in the new year. I'm thinking C-plus.

Sure beats a D. It's been that bad out there. With luck, next year we may even get a B.

The state economy's better off than it was a year ago. Our new governor's focus on jobs, jobs, jobs may seem myopic to many, but it's helping at least a bit. Unemployment is dropping, slowly and steadily.

But the goals of becoming the Nation's Most Irresistible Business State with super-low corporate taxes and leaner regulation and bureaucracy have proved more challenging in a fiscally challenged era.

Those high-profile companies that were touted early on by Gov. Rick Scott — the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, for one — and that flirted with us were probably never serious about relocation. But Florida was a handy foil to squeeze some tax concessions back home in Illinois.

Don't count on those other states to slumber away as economic rivals steal their mojo.

It's fitting to take a look at how Florida's economy is doing on the same day that Florida Gov. Rick Scott offers his State of the State address in Tallahassee.

After one year in office, he'll be predictably upbeat and say there's still a lot more to do. He'll probably end with his patented "Let's get to work."

Truth is, much of the improvement in Florida occurred without Tallahassee's help. Just as the national jobless rate has now dropped to 8.5 percent, nearly a three-year low, Florida is enjoying some of the same uptick in job growth coming out of the Great Recession.

Measuring Florida's economic progress is tricky.

A glut of studies in the past year pegged the Sunshine State as near the top of the country for its business climate.

Just as many reports plopped Florida right in the so-so middle of the pack of business performance.

In 2011, for example, a national poll of CEOs by Chief Executive magazine lionized Florida as the nation's third-best state for business behind North Carolina and No. 1 Texas.

Another annual ranking by Site Selection magazine used different measures but named Florida the country's 10th best state for business climate. Again, Texas came in No. 1, followed by Georgia and North Carolina.

But another 2011 analysis called "Enterprising States" from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and co-authored by regional economics expert Joel Kotkin ranked only the top 10 states for low business taxes and regulations.

Surely Florida, fixated as it is on these two exact priorities, would excel?

Sadly, Florida did not make the top 10.

No. 1 was Tennessee followed by South Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Indiana, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, North Dakota and Utah.

As the top 10 list shows, the winners were not found on the East Coast or West Coast, and only Texas was among the nation's most populous places.

In the same U.S. chamber study, Florida also did not rank high for growth, entrepreneurship and innovation, infrastructure or exports.

Where Florida did shine was ranking tops in workforce and training.

Kotkin says he expects Florida to continue to be an attractive, lower-cost place to move.

Add up all those studies, rankings and ratings, and Florida's economic grade could soon be respectable.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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