Today we kick-off the new year with a reality check as to where our state, county and city stand after one of the most trying times in our lives. The good news is the main themes of this morning were "economic recovery" and "GROWTH"!
We heard from Dr. Jerry Parrish, a leading Florida state economist with the Florida Chamber Foundation about the health of the state economy and of Polk County. We also heard an update from County Commissioner Martha Santiago and County Manager Bill Beasley on how the county plans to manage our continued rapid growth. We also had updates from City Manager Mike Herr, Public Safety Director Charlie Bird, Director of Economic Opportunity & Community Investment Eric Labbe, Smart City Officer Hiep Nguyen and Assistant City Manager T. Michael Stavres.
You can read the highlights below or watch each segment below or on the Chamber's YouTube channel.
A special thank you to our event sponsors! Our presenting sponsor was Bank of Central Florida and our supporting sponsors included Six/Ten LLC and Tampa Electric Co.
State of the State - Dr. Jerry Parrish
Watch the 'State of the State' update at the YouTube video below or continue on and read a recap:
Jerry Parrish, Ph.D. works for the Florida Chamber Foundation, the only state Chamber of Commerce that employs a full time economist. He is also an adjunct professor at Florida State University for their Masters of Applied Economics Program. He reviewed a plethora of valuable data, much of which is updated monthly on his website, thefloridascorecard.org
So what was some key data that Dr. Parrish share? Across the state:
So when will Florida's economy recover?
Even through the pandemic, Florida continues to be a leader in GDP. From Q3 2019 through Q3 2020 we were the 5th highest year over year. In other words business activity is continuing even though we have lost jobs. Interestingly, Florida has more high wage jobs than we did last January and that's been true since about June of 2020.
While we lost 1.1 million jobs we gained 700,000 jobs back. These are truly 'recovery jobs' and not necessarily job gains.
Where Florida will struggle to regain job positioning comes down to Leisure and Hospitality jobs. Of the -419,000 jobs year over year almost half of those, 197,000, are from that sector. Biggest hits are from accommodations and attractions, both down about 40%. You have to remember that many of the hotels are small business with corporate hotel flags. He notes while most other industries are expected to regain jobs over 2021, he estimates that Leisure and Hospitality will not "come back" until Q1 of 2023 depending on national and international travelers comfort level.
Specifically to Polk County, we lost 10,780 jobs year over year or -3.6%. Much of this has to do with the diversification of our economy and the fact that we are no as reliant on tourism and hospitality as our neighboring communities.
In terms of labor force, Polk County is only down -0.2 percent. Statewide the number is -2.6% or 276,000 no longer in the workforce (this number is completely dropped out, i.e. not seeking employment, not those unemployed seeking employment. This is important because we don't have good a good idea of who this is. Nationally, in many cases, these are people that completely dropped out of the workforce when the kids weren't able to go to school. These were primary female. This could have implications long-term on the diversity of the workforce. It could also be people that were in leisure and hospitality and have now gone back to school for another career path. We just don't know.
How has this impact Florida small businesses?
It is estimated that 30% of Florida small businesses closed in 2020. In the Leisure and Hospitality industry this number is closed to 48% and professional services this number is only at 17%. Interestingly, over the last 5 years, 60% of Floridas net new jobs came from small businesses (which he categorizes as those with less than 100 employees).
Over half of the small businesses surveyed said they are just trying to make it through, many dipping into longer term savings, if they have it. Long term this could impact job creation.
By county, Polk County "small businesses with less than 100 employees" created approximately 30% of our jobs. This is relatively low.
One of the priorities of the Florida Chamber is to help reduce childhood poverty in the state to no more than 10% over the next 10 years by getting the business community involved. As of 2019, Polk County has almost 25% of children under the age of 18 living in poverty. Winter Haven zip codes include 33% in the 33881 zip code, 28% in 33880 and 15% in 33884. These numbers are probably worse post-pandemic. The Winter Haven Chamber will be launching an initiative over the coming months and years to join the effort improve opportunity and prosperity.
Dr. Parrish estimates that Polk County could have as many as 161,000 more people by 2030.
State of Polk County
Watch the 'State of the County' update at the YouTube video below or continue on and read a recap:
During the State of the County Update, County Commissioner Dr. Martha Santiago stated that the state of the County is strong. The economy is recovering, unemployment is declining, home values are still climbing and businesses are open for business. This all comes with challenges in terms of growth from land use conflicts to water infrastructure to transportation and public services. Commissioner Santiago remarked that our County's greatest strength comes from the collaboration between the cities, the county and the state legislative delegation. She stated, "I am optimistic that Polk County is prepared to find solutions to the challenges ahead for us."
County Manager Bill Beasley opened with the fact that most of our challenges surround growth. He reflected on how at this time last year the County Commission and leadership had just set their goals for the year, one poised to continue to be positive economically. And then COVID hit. What was one of the major successes (this is from the Chamber's perspective too) is that the County, when receiving $126 million dollars from the federal government for COVID aide. With that came 2-pages of general guidance. They had until Dec. 30 to spend every dime of that money or it would go back to the federal government. They knew that they wouldn't do that as our residents needed it. They pivoted extremely quickly to get it $123 million of it out from individuals to businesses to healthcare organizations to seniors and more.
Unfortunately 2021 will begin much in the way 2020 ended. The County is doing everything they can to help the healthcare organizations as well as the health department when it comes to the vaccine.
So where is Polk headed? It centers around growth management.
Issues that will need to be prioritized: Behavioral Health & Affordable Housing
State of the City
Watch the 'State of the City' update at the YouTube video below or continue on and read a recap:
City Manager Mike Herr
City Manager Mike Herr kicked off the City update discussing a new position and a new focus for the City - Diversity & Inclusion.
They intend to improve the way they do the following with an eye towards diversity and inclusion:
Mr. Herr also addressed what the City Commission will be discussing at their Strategic Thinking retreat on April 1-2.
Chief Charlie Bird - Public Safety Director
Chief Bird discussed the Public Safety Community Advisory Committee. This is a committee that has been in the works for awhile but will be newly formed this year. While they take pride that they have developed an extremely strong relationship with the community, they believe that you cannot ever be content. You have to constantly be improving. The committee's focus is to bring forth concerns, review police and fire department policies and training and evaluate if the departments are meeting their mission to protect life, protect property and enhance the quality of life of Winter Havenites. A primary focus of the department is how to prevent problems before they occur. This committee serves as a pipeline of communication between the department and the community on an ongoing basis.
The Public Safety Community Advisory Committee process and purpose was formed with the input of community members. The committee will have 9 members appointed by the commission. Interested individuals will be able to apply. All applicants will go through a background check. They hope to launch the application after the Commission approves the formation of the committee by resolution at their Feb. 22 meeting. Each of the five Commissioners will appoint one member, the City manager will appoint one, the Public Safety Director will appoint one and then the 7 members of the committee will select 2 other members.
Eric Labbe - Director of Economic Opportunity & Community Investment
Winter Haven's Growth: According to the Milken Institute the Winter Haven-Lakeland MSA (or Polk County) has risen from #114 in the nation in economic strength and diversity to #39 in 2020.
Over the last 10 years the City of Winter Haven has grown by over 38%, and these numbers just reflect the population growth in the City limits proper, and not the unincorporated Winter Haven area. In comparison, Lakeland has grown by 12%, Polk County by almost 19% and Florida overall by almost 15%. In theory, Winter Haven grows by almost 4 people every day and 110 each month. Other notable growth statistics for Winter Haven include that we have:
One obvious indicator of our growth is the issuance of single family residential construction permits. In 2020, the City of Winter Haven hit a record with 1,000 permits issued in one year. Due to the continued growth the City of Winter Haven is updating all of their software systems to create a more seamless, customer friendly, transparent development process. They also have a focus on leveraging partnerships to accomplish their goals and taking a thorough look at how the City is planning for growth through land use planning, water resources planning, parks and recreation, transportation planning etc.
Hiep Nguyen - Smart City Officer
The City of Winter Haven is striving to be a smart city which is focused on innovation and embracing technology to operate more efficiently as a City and improve the quality of life for Winter Havenites. A smart city is focused on connecting people, ideas and common goals. The challenges of 2020 force adoption of and acceptance of the acceleration of technology. The City IT staff won an award for their response to the COVID 19 crisis. The Smart City process at the City of Winter Haven has four basic premises:
The City strives to make as many data-driven decisions as they can. There are several new tools already implement or in the works:
T. Michael Stavres - Assistant City Manager
Capital Investment Updates
Lake Conine Wetland Restoration Project
South Lake Silver Complete Street Project: