We kicked off Wednesday morning with our 16th annual East Polk Economic Summit presented by Bank of Central Florida. Dr. Dale Brill, Senior Vice President of Research and Foundation for Building Community at the Orlando Economic Partnership, spoke to us about Polk County's current economic state, as well as the opportunities we have to continue moving forward, while also staying true to who we are.
Dale thought it would be helpful to use an analogy - "You have been asked to fly the inaugural flight of Winter Haven Airlines. You're sitting behind the dash board and controls and I am going to show you the different options you have for which items you have to put on your dashboard." Like an airline dashboard, economic data can be overwhelming, so Dale shared on three topics to scale down all of the overwhelming data.
Growth (7 County Footprint)
Polk County has a population growth projected to be a little over 24% over the next 10 years. 1500 people per week come to our region. That has been a rate that has been sustained for about 60 years. By 2030, Orlando will double their population. For the first time in history, seniors will outnumber our youth.
Fastest growing industries in the region are heavy in healthcare, then real-estate. Our strength is that we have no personal income tax, we had lots of land for a long time. We have things that entice people to come here. Because we are affordable, we attract people with fixed incomes like retirees. Our profile is changing. "Don't buy into the rear view mirror. You can drive a plane or a car by looking through the rear view mirror."
Polk County has a projected employment growth rate of almost 18% for the next 10 years. Osceola County concerns Dale due to their projected job growth of 36%, but their population will increase over 50% (that gap is troubling).
Dale also talked about adaptability in regards to recent conversations on automation. Artificial intelligence, extended reality, augmented reality, etc. We are using technology to change everything. "Technology used to be designed to make us more productive. Now it's being used to make mankind unnecessary." Due to automation, many jobs are starting to change or are no longer needing a "warm body" to fill certain positions.
According to PWC, nearly 60% of all current occupations in the Orlando region are positioned for automation in the next 10 years. Here's a real-life example of the dilemma: Truck drivers are being told their jobs are threatened by the autonomous vehicle technology. But at the same time you see ads that express a need for truck drivers. What person looking for a career will select to become a truck driver when your job could be eliminated in 10 years. Dale expressed that, "We are in very uncertain times that makes business very difficult."
Dale also shared that in the next 10 years, the FDOT is expecting a 55% increase in traffic on I-4. (This is when large sighs emerged from the crowd! And rightfully so). It's not just from population growth. As home prices in Orlando become unaffordable more people will have to relocated to more affordable outlying areas, creating longer commutes to work. . . on I-4.
The ALICE Threshold is calculated by United Way every two years. It is a measure of how many people are Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed (i.e. working poor). Households below the ALICE Threshold are people who are working, but they are just barely getting by, such that a $450 surprise could put them into a financial spiral. There are now 26 out of the 50 states that have their own version of this metric.
Despite the longest expansion of the economy in history, the percentage of ALICE households in the Orlando region has gone up. Orlando is the poster child for this problem currently. Rent vs. Wage Growth is also another huge problem. People are having to live further and further from where they work because things in Orlando are becoming increasingly more expensive, especially for those under the ALICE threshold.
Dale dropped an astounding statistic, sharing that, in the next 10 years, we will be nearly 15,000 teachers short. This and the others listed above, are categories in which we will have to make extremely deliberate choices on how to move forward successfully.
Dale closed his presentation sharing that the Orlando Economic Partnership is working on metrics that help to show the full picture of the data they collect. That will be revealed on Nov. 19.
Although Florida ins't without challenges, Dale assured us that if we make deliberate choices while staying true to who we are, we will be extremely successful. He also commented on how much he admires our community for our collaboration, passion and compassion for each other. This was a perfect seg-way into some final words from our President/CEO, Katie Worthington Decker.
Winter Haven 2030
Chamber President Katie Worthington Decker, shares that the Chamber's Board of Directors, past board chairs and community partners from the City, Main Street and EDC met this summer to begin to formulate a 2030 strategic community plan.
To know where you are going, you have to know where you have been. Our board used visioning efforts from the past, such as the “My Future By Design” from 2000 and the 2013 Aspire Winter Haven report. Many meaningful gains have been made during the time since those reports, especially the development of the downtown core and the capital improvement projects at the City.
It was also important to understand where Winter Haven is today. As you may recall, two years ago a collaborative group from the community, led by the Chamber, developed an answer to the question “Who is Winter Haven.” We developed four key pillars that stand on the foundation of our people, our businesses and our entrepreneurs. They are Lakeside Lifestyle, Downtown Is Our Stage, Premier Family Friendly Destination and Collaborative Business Community.
It’s also important to understand how our business community feels about where Winter Haven is today and what their outlook is on our future. Pulling data from our membership survey you can see that there is overall positivity about Winter Haven's future, but there is concern about the availability of a qualified workforce.
When it comes to the future of our community, the positivity train continues! And we have a lot to look forward too!
Katie also shared various statistics on Polk County from thefloridascorecard.org, a Florida Chamber Foundation website that update monthly with information on talent supply and education, economic development, infrastructure and growth, business climate, quality of life, etc.
Winter Haven's population projections continue to grow which is why it is important to prepares for that growth.
So what do we do to prepare for the future and what do we need to watch out for along the way?
That is where you come in. We will be hosting some coffee talks about this subject as well as requesting one-on-one meetings with our area employers. We want to make sure that as a community, as a chamber, we are providing the support and direction needed to fill our community’s aspirations.