Despite the big housing boom that ultimately went bust in 2008, Florida continues to experience some activity in the luxury market. That said, economists predict a dismal economic situation throughout the state well beyond 2010. In October 2009, Florida, along with California and Nevada, posted the highest foreclosure rates in the country. A stunning statistic emerged that in October 2009 a whopping 272 foreclosures were filed by lenders each day -- all in the tri-county South Florida area, representing an 8% year-over-year increase from 2008, and a massive 86% increase from 2007.
To make matters worse, unemployment rates in the state skyrocketed, and as of August 2010, the percentage of those out of work in the state rose to a staggering 11.7 %. But despite the gloom and doom, thanks to the first-time homebuyer credit, home sales were up in some of the state's most dismal markets -- Orlando and Fort Myers.
Optimists, including outgoing governor Charlie Crist, however, saw the glass half-full, telling The Palm Beach Post in January 2001, "Something is starting to percolate in Florida's economy," which had many skeptics dubiously agreeing, saying, "Yeah, the Cuban coffee." According to that newspaper, Florida in 2010 was in "the best financial shape it has been in years, despite a sluggish economy that has been a drain on state and local coffers for the past three years." Hotels were seeing an upturn in bookings and new restaurants and diversions opened to sizable crowds. But look at any local newspaper, where headlines one day screamed foreclosures were at record highs and, on another, how real estate sales were booming. Go figure.
Optimism aside, according to economists, however, the job forecast is expected to remain dismal until at least 2012.
In fact, the only boost Florida experienced in 2010 was one in the number of foreclosures, with 1 in 155 households in dire financial straits. In 2009, for the first time in more than 60 years, more people moved out of Florida than moved in; the state experienced a net loss of approximately 58,000 people. A bright spot: 2010 saw a slight rise in population, but the rise was in home renters, not owners.
Just when things may have been looking up somewhat came the behemoth known as the BP Oil Disaster. And despite the $25 million the state received for tourist development councils to create ads reflecting the accurate condition of Florida's beaches -- that is, that most, if not all, were untouched by the stuff -- tourists remained skeptic and, in the summer of 2010, stayed away in droves. After the tar balls settled, however, the tourists trickled back, slowly but surely.
One facet of Florida that didn't seem to be affected by, well, anything was the booming theme park business, which, in 2010, saw a massive sign of improvement and consumer confidence in the form of the multi-zillion-dollar new Harry Potter attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando. As much as the British boy wizard may have saved the theme park biz, the Orlando Sentinel reported that the area, as of early 2010, still had a long way to go, and that it would be "months or years before the region shakes its hangover from the longest recession since the Great Depression."
South Florida saw a major slowdown in building, condos, hotels, and pretty much everything else. The cranes just stopped and lingered over the cityscape like a movie set on hiatus. Despite the stalling, however, a spate of restaurant openings -- high-end, no less -- dared to defy the notion that people weren't dining out. For every GOING OUT OF BUSINESS sign So Flo seemed to spit out an opening to balance it out. Drops in hotel rates allowed for a spate of budget-conscious tourists who normally wouldn't have had the opportunities they did after hotels put out their recession-friendly welcome mats.
Over in Southwest Florida, a few homeruns to counter the fact that tourism was indeed down in 2010: The Baltimore Orioles, in their inaugural spring training in Sarasota, drew more than 100,000 fans -- most of them out-of-towners. Northeast Florida was also experiencing an upswing. According to the Florida Times-Union, in 2010, "Hotels experienced 60 percent-plus occupancy rates for two months in a row in February and March. That hadn't happened since mid-2008, when the downturn was beginning to take hold on the metro area."
Northwest Florida wasn't as fortunate. Before the oil spill threatened the area's beaches, the Panhandle was on a huge high thanks to the opening of the area's brand-new, LEED-certified Northwest Florida Beaches International Airport (ECP). Even after the oil spill threatened the area, hotels saw cancellations countered by last-minute reservations. As the oil threatened the area's big Memorial Day Weekend 2010, Southwest Airlines said that flights to the area were full. In early June, Gov. Crist announced a hard-core, 90-day marketing campaign to return tourism to the area's pre-oil spill glory. "Even though there are no physical impacts to Florida's shores from the oil spill," Crist said, "the state's tourism industry, especially in the Panhandle, has already felt a very real economic impact."
As 2011 began, things looked less bleak. "Our belief is that there is nothing that has changed about Florida, its attraction to other states and other countries, and that we're slowly heading back to that same pace," said Amy Baker, coordinator of the Legislature's Office of Economic and Demographic Research. "Over the long run there's still significant growth in our forecast."
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