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Florida: Meeting Challenges Through Non-Traditional Sector Growth

Lisa A. Bastian (Apr/May 09)
While some experts predict the recession may not end until the fourth quarter of this year, Florida may not overcome its effects until second quarter of 2010, according to noted economist Dr. Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida. However, optimistic local governments expect the state to emerge even stronger, as they are busy successfully landing new companies and industries, many of which are not historically part of their investment mix.

Traditional Florida industries are aviation/aerospace, tourism, agriculture, real estate/construction, and marine, says Stuart Doyle, director of communications for Enterprise Florida, an organization promoting investment throughout the state to businesses worldwide. In this new economic environment, however, Florida has targeted eight sectors to aid diversification and long-term growth: aviation/aerospace, clean energy, emerging technologies, financial and professional services, homeland security and defense, information technology, life sciences, and manufacturing.

One major success story in the aviation sector: Brazilian aerospace conglomerate  Embraer plans to build its first U.S.-based facility in Melbourne. When operational by January 2010, this 150,000-square-foot, $50 million plant will produce executive jets and employ about 200 skilled workers by 2011.

This past March, Governor Charlie Crist unveiled the Florida International Trade Stimulus Program. "I have charged our public leadership to do all that is possible to steer our economy towards brighter days," said Crist in making the announcement. "I am asking all of our international businesses to . tell our friends abroad . that despite these challenging times, Florida remains open for business."  

Comprised of four programs, this stimulus is designed to create international business opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses and economic development organizations. International trade was Florida's strongest economic sector in 2008, totaling $130.5 billion, 13.7 percent higher than in 2007. Florida-origin exports increased 21 percent in 2008, far exceeding the nation's export growth of 11.8 percent, and rank fifth among all states in exports.

Orlando, the world's tourism capital, is an excellent "poster child" for regions considering economic development diversification. About eight years ago, it set in place plans to attract firms in new industries, according to Jennifer Wakefield, director of public relations for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. "Despite the global recession, economic growth and job creation continue to occur in central Florida," she says. "The extraordinary momentum enjoyed by this community in recent years has not come to a screeching halt. So far this year, we've helped create/retain 1,290 jobs and $42 million in capital investments. We're actually ahead of where we were at this point last year."

While there are rough patches in real estate and tourism in Orlando, she says there are many bright spots, too. A creative village is being built in downtown Orlando made up of the area's emerging digital media industry - for example, EA Sports' Tiburon studio is based here. It joins the world's largest cluster of modeling, simulation, and training companies, as well as many players in the optics/photonics industries.

Recent new Orlando investment announcements abound. They include the eventual expansion of Houston-based Access MediQuip into a 26,000-square-foot facility with 145 new jobs within three years; the relocation of digital media production firm Dream Balloon Productions into a 10,500-square-foot space; and a $26 million investment by DataSite Orlando to renovate a 130,000-square-foot facility into a modern data center.

In addition, the region's growing health industry is spinning off a life sciences cluster. Dubbed "Medical City" at Lake Nona (southeast of Orlando), its projects planned or under construction are expected to have a $7.6 billion impact - and add 30,000 jobs - over a 10-year period and transform Central Florida into a world-class bio center. Currently over 150 biotech and life sciences firms operate here. When fully built, the site will include a Burnham Institute for Medical Research facility, an undergraduate school of biomedical sciences, a children's hospital, and a VA hospital. It already is known as a top "medical tourism" locale for major medical meetings.

How else will Florida keep its head above water during these turbulent economic times? On top of using existing incentive tools, Wakefield says future incentive tools may come in the form of a proposed Central Florida commuter rail system, a proposed R&D tax credit, and a research commercialization matching grant program.

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