Tampa Bay economic recovery will be slow, but new jobs will help

With apologies to the movie Apocalypse Now, I love the smell of a thousand jobs in the morning.

Especially when they are all destined for needy Florida. We've seen three unique projects announced in Central Florida — two of them unveiled just this month — and each has called for 1,000 jobs.

One project is in the entertainment industry, that Florida stalwart. The second involves housing development — yes, there's a sliver of life even in this battered piece of the economy. And the third melds high-tech and international trade.

That's 3,000 jobs that would not otherwise be happening.

I realize this modest number is almost laughable in a state with a rising unemployment rate that is already well above the national average.

Friday's new unemployment rate for Florida was posted at 11.8 percent as of December, up from 11.5 in November and 7.6 percent in December 2008. The Tampa Bay metro area unemployment rate stayed flat at 12.4 percent in December, as it was in November. But it is still 4 percentage points greater than the 8.4 percent of only 12 months ago.

In that light, a thousand jobs apiece promised in three projects pale beside 51,000 jobs lost in the past year in the Tampa Bay area alone. But it's too easy and unproductive to write woe-is-us job columns week after week. It's important to look for positives where they can be found.

We will see more, not fewer, 1,000-job projects unveiled in the months ahead. But it will be a slow pace of renewal.

These three projects — how they came to be — may offer some insights about the Florida job market and how we could see new employment re-emerge in this state. Here's a peek at each:

Entertainment: Last week the buyers of the defunct Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven said they will create 1,000 jobs by opening Legoland Florida. The globally recognized Lego brand is backed by Britain's experienced theme park operator Merlin Entertainments. They promise a big marketing step-up from pitching old-Florida water ski shows and Southern belles in garden scenes to a new millennium audience.

Merlin is controlled by the Blackstone Group, the same powerful private equity firm that recently bought Busch Gardens and SeaWorld and owns a piece of Universal Studios Orlando. That means Legoland Florida's opening in late 2011 will be leveraged by a Central Florida area theme park owner that is second in tourism clout now only to Walt Disney.

At least $5 million in government incentives helped attract Merlin to Cypress Gardens.

Housing redevelopment: Federal housing officials surprised local officials 10 days ago by committing $88 million in stimulus money to the Tampa Bay area to help build affordable homes and clean up neighborhoods struggling with foreclosures.

Of that sum, $28 million will go to the Tampa Housing Authority to help rebuild Central Park Village. A renewal project called Encore was attempted several years ago but fizzled as the housing market weakened. Central Park buildings were demolished just before the deal ran out of steam. The federal infusion will help rebuild the basic pieces of Encore and, says the Tampa Housing Authority, create 1,000 jobs.

So these jobs are happening because of new federal money.

Technology and international trade: Last fall, a Pasco company with a proficiency in nanotechnology unveiled a $200 million international trade agreement with a Chinese state-owned company. Pasco's Dais Analytic Corp. of Odessa makes high-efficiency heating/cooling and water cleanup filters — not the old-school kind, but ones based on "nano" or molecular level technology. Bottom line? Over the next five years, look for 1,000 jobs from the deal with China.

So far, there are no government incentives in this project, though that could change as Dais seeks new space to expand. The real key here is an innovative product devised by a local company and a willingness to stretch across the globe to reach a large customer.

Will all three of these projects end up delivering a thousand jobs apiece? So far, the odds look pretty good even in this economy.

The point is, jobs often beget jobs, which in turn beget more jobs.

We gotta start rebuilding somewhere. And a thousand jobs a pop smells really good about now.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay economic recovery will be slow, but new jobs will help 01/23/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 22, 2010 8:08pm]

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