Friday, February 23, 2018
Business

Tampa Bay poll: Optimism rises for an improved economy in 2013

Andrea Schleicher, a longtime special education teacher, sees signs all around her that Tampa Bay's economy is poised for a brighter year.

Several houses on her street just sold; the stock market is up; and gas prices are down, making the commute from her Tarpon Springs home to various Pasco County schools much more palatable.

"There are a lot of positives showing the economy is turning," Schleicher said. "I think it will get better next year."

Schleicher's fellow Tampa Bay residents are also more optimistic that the economy is on the upswing, or at least that it won't get worse, according to a new Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/AM 820 News poll.

About 42 percent of Hillsborough County residents and 34 percent of Pinellas County residents believe they and their families will be better off a year from now; most of the rest think their situation will be about the same. Only 16 percent of residents in both counties believe their financial situation will worsen.

That's a strong jump from a year ago, when the Tampa Bay poll showed just 29 percent of respondents thought 2012 would be a good year for them financially.

The re-election of President Barack Obama was largely a wash on the results. A little under a third said the outcome made them more optimistic; a little over a third indicated it made them less optimistic, and a third said it made no difference.

Economist Chris McCarty said the findings mesh with the monthly statewide University of Florida consumer confidence poll that he oversees. In November, Florida consumer confidence dipped in part because of the election, he said, but it has still been trending positive much of the year.

A rise in home prices throughout the year is one of the brightest spots for many Florida metros, McCarty noted. "Things certainly are better, and I think the consumer confidence numbers … reflect that."

Nationally, the gross domestic product for the third quarter was revised up last week to 3.1 percent, still below what is needed to surge out of the economic doldrums, but better than many recent quarters. Consumer confidence is at the highest point in four-and-a-half years, auto sales have rebounded and the latest home sales beat expectations.

In Florida, the unemployment rate has steadily fallen, reaching a four-year low of 8.1 percent in November. In the Tampa Bay area, home sales, home prices and home construction have all picked up in recent months. Pinellas County experienced record levels of tourists in 2012.

The Congressional Budget Office has forecast a very mild 1.7 percent growth in the nation's economy next year and some economists predict Florida is poised to outpace the rest of the country if the housing market recovery continues.

Robert Pollard of Ruskin isn't buying it.

Pollard, 52, who works as an automotive parts and service fleet manager, is concerned the country's fiscal policies have set it up for a nightmare and believes Tampa Bay will be hit as hard as everyone else.

His laundry list of worries runs from unchecked government spending to the massive federal debt to a skyrocketing cost of living, with gas prices trending up in recent years and higher food prices.

"I see runaway inflation. I don't see how it cannot happen," he added. "It might not be today or tomorrow, but it has to be in the next two or three years."

Pollard sees the federal budget choking the economy even if the pending "fiscal cliff" is resolved with Obama and Congress reaching a deal that prevents automatic, heavy spending cuts and tax increases going into effect next year.

Pat Franke of Largo disagrees. He ties the federal budget mess to heavy spending on foreign wars, a commitment that is winding down.

"As we slowly get our military out of other countries and back home, we won't be spending as much money on it," he said. "I'm hoping we are past the worst."

Like many survey responders, Franke, 49, is less enthusiastic about his current economic situation.

More than half of those polled said their economic situation is unchanged from a year ago; about 27 percent said they are worse off and only 16 percent said they feel better off than they were at the close of 2011.

In Franke's case, a tough economy has translated to working more hours for the same pay. A restaurant general manager, Franke used to work five days a week. Now the industry standard is putting in six days a week, he said.

"You used to have another manager on salary," he said. "Now, instead of having three managers (rotating in one location), they have two managers covering for each other. … The quality of life has changed a lot."

Robert Collette, 88, of South Pasadena counts himself in the camp of optimists for 2013.

"We've been in a stormy sea and a big wave broke over and we're coming out of it," he said. "Unless the blockers of doing anything in Congress prevail totally, I think we'll come out of it pretty good."

The nation just needs time, he said, to heal from the biggest recession since the Great Depression. "It took (President Franklin) Roosevelt 12 years," he added.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8242.

Comments
Long awaited Clearwater Beach garage bleeds money in its first year

Long awaited Clearwater Beach garage bleeds money in its first year

CLEARWATER —City leaders discussed building a parking structure on north Clearwater Beach for more than 15 years before the seven-story Pelican Walk Parking Garage finally opened at the start of 2017.The city paid $11.3 million to own 450 of the deve...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Q&A: New Tampa Electric CEO Nancy Tower outlines safety plan

Q&A: New Tampa Electric CEO Nancy Tower outlines safety plan

TAMPA — Nancy Tower was in junior high when she first came to Tampa Bay from Canada to vacation with her family. Now, she returns here in a more permanent capacity — as Tampa Electric Co.’s new CEO.Tower was appointed to Tampa Electric’s top spot fol...
Published: 02/23/18
Oldsmar has a flea market, waterfront and parks... but really wants a downtown

Oldsmar has a flea market, waterfront and parks... but really wants a downtown

OLDSMAR — Wanted: One vibrant downtown. Contact: City of Oldsmar.Perhaps best known for its enormous flea market, Oldsmar sits at the top of Old Tampa Bay near the Pinellas-Hillsborough county line. On the one hand, it’s a convenient location for peo...
Published: 02/23/18
A look at new ships and trends in cruising for 2018

A look at new ships and trends in cruising for 2018

What’s new in cruising for 2018? As usual, there’s lots of razzle-dazzle — laser tag, water slides, zip lines and massive LED screens — along with a continued emphasis on healthy lifestyle options, from dining to fitness. But there are also changes u...
Published: 02/23/18
Administrator Haley Loeun fired from CareerSource jobs centers

Administrator Haley Loeun fired from CareerSource jobs centers

Haley Loeun, a top aide to the embattled leader of the Pinellas and Hillsborough jobs boards, was fired Thursday from her $130,000 position as business services director. Loeun came under criticism after the Tampa Bay Times reported that CareerSource...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecasts

Outback Steakhouse owner Bloomin’ Brands beats Wall Street forecasts

TAMPA — Outback Steakhouse has been pressured to improve for awhile, but the restaurant chain isn’t cooked yet. In fact, a boost in Outback sales led its Tampa-based parent company to beat Wall Street expectations in its fourth quarter.Bloomin’ Brand...
Published: 02/22/18
Tampa Bay area’s population projected to grow to 3.1 million this year

Tampa Bay area’s population projected to grow to 3.1 million this year

TAMPA — The Tampa Bay area’s population, already the largest of any metropolitan area in the state, is projected to grow from 3 million last year to 3.1 million this year, and to 3.3 million over the next five years.That growth is expected to bring c...
Published: 02/22/18
Work finally starts on downtown St. Petersburg’s newest hotel

Work finally starts on downtown St. Petersburg’s newest hotel

ST. PETERSBURG — Nearly a decade after it was first proposed, a new boutique hotel in downtown St. Petersburg is finally under construction.Workers are preparing the foundation of the Galaxy, an 11-story, 92-room hotel at Third Avenue N and First Str...
Published: 02/22/18
Note to readers: About those annoying popups on your phones

Note to readers: About those annoying popups on your phones

Dear readers, I hope that you are able to see this and that a popup saying you’ve won a gift card hasn’t taken over your phone. We have heard from many of you that these popups are preventing you from reading our news coverage.We hate them as much as...
Published: 02/22/18
Saving trees a passion for some St. Petersburg neighborhood leaders

Saving trees a passion for some St. Petersburg neighborhood leaders

ST. PETERSBURGBeth Connor, a longtime neighborhood environmental advocate, is alarmed at what she views as the destruction of the city’s trees in the name of development.She points to at least three properties that have been scraped of trees in recen...
Published: 02/22/18