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10 signs of economic relief for Florida and Tampa Bay

Published May 3, 2012

We're hardly on Easy Street, but here are 10 fresh signals of real progress as we crawl out of a rough recession.

10. Jobs: So we know the job markets in Florida and Tampa Bay are strengthening. The state jobless rate is 9 percent with Tampa Bay a bit lower at 8.9 percent. But the core counties of Tampa Bay already boast even lower unemployment rates than our overall region. Hillsborough's fell to 8.5 percent and Pinellas is right behind at 8.6 percent.

9. Customer growth: "At Tampa Electric, we had a full 1 percent customer growth in the first quarter, and that's the highest we've seen since the first quarter of 2007." – Sandra Callahan, TECO Energy chief financial officer, in comments Tuesday to analysts.

8. IT demand: The big buzz in technology circles here is that there are lots of jobs going unfilled or forcing businesses to hire elsewhere. The anecdotal jobless rate of techies here: between 2 and 4 percent.

7. Florida now helps rather than hinders: "Florida has been becoming an asset for us again for the last several quarters. And I would say that we had stronger growth out of Florida incrementally than we did out of the rest of the country." – Mike McLamb, CFO of Clearwater's MarineMax, the country's biggest boating retailer, in remarks last week.

6. Realistic Tampa Bay housing prices: In many housing markets, the difference between the median listing price (what people hope they can sell their homes for) and the median sales price (what they do sell their homes for) is huge. In Atlanta, the median list price is $150,000 but the median sales price is $90,600 – a whopping 40 percent difference. Not so in Tampa Bay where the median listing price is $139,900 and median sales price is $135,500. That's only a 3 percent difference, which means buyer and seller already are on the same wavelength, a plus for boosting home sales.

5. A national frontrunner: Sure, the jobless rate's coming down nicely in Tampa Bay. But how do we stack up against job trends in other big metro areas? Darn well. Among larger metro areas, the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area enjoyed the third greatest decline in unemployment — two full percentage points — since March 2011. (Detroit was tops, followed by Miami.)

4. Move aside, North Carolina: Chief Executive magazine's new ranking of the best states for business says Florida is now No. 2 nationwide. Florida was No. 3 last year but pushed ahead of North Carolina. Texas remains No. 1. Kudos, says the magazine, to "boosterish" Gov. Rick Scott.

3. Fewer mass layoffs: The pace and size of mass layoffs in Florida, defined as those job cuts requiring WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notice) Act disclosure to the state, is way down from last year. The biggest 2012 WARN cuts in Tampa Bay so far is 102 jobs at the social service firm Hillsborough Kids Inc.

2. Tourism rebounding: Pinellas County drew 606,100 visitors in January and February, up 7.1 percent from a year ago. Hillsborough County enjoyed a 5.5 percent bump over 2011 in people staying overnight in local hotels and motels in the first quarter.

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1. More new vehicle sales: At auto dealerships, new vehicle sales in March 2012 (versus March 2011) were up 9.4 percent in Hillsborough, 4.6 percent in Pinellas, 20 percent in Pasco, 24.4 percent in Hernando but down 12.9 percent in Citrus.

All in all, a steady recovery.

Contact Robert Trigaux at trigaux@tampabay.com.

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