Ecomonic cold snap hits Sunshine State, chill even affects Florida tourism
| Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The recession has finally caught up to Florida.
* The state of Florida has decided to spend some extra advertising money to try to convince ''snowbirds,'' or northerners, a Florida vacation is a good idea. Tourism, the beachkeepers have found, is down this winter.
* Florida builders are advertising heavily in the north, and some condominium developers have decided to postpone new construction until the economy recovers.
* The number of people moving to Florida has slowed as tales of crime in south Florida increase, and the recession has also taken its toll on in-migration.
Up until the end of the 1981, the Sunshine State had successfully eluded the economic cold weather that has chilled the rest of the nation. Now economists in and out of the state are forecasting that this state's economy will weaken too, although it will be in better shape than the rest of the nation.
For example, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta concluded in a recent review: ''Underlying forces continue pushing Florida upward in the new year, but much slower growth seems likely.'' And, Gary Cooper, an economist working for the state of Florida, says ''Florida should experience negative growth in personal income in the first and second quarters. The economy here won't turn around until at least the third quarter.'' Henry Fishkind, an economist at the University of Florida agrees: ''We're going to have a soft first half.''
This means unemployment will start to rise. At the end of December, unemployment stood at 7.3 percent, compared to 8.8 percent nationally. However, as John Godfrey, chief economist for Barnett Banks notes, the state figure should stay below 8 percent in 1982.
There is no doubt the state's economy has been among the strongest in the nation. Personal income rose 15.3 percent through the third quarter of 1981, compared with 11.9 percent nationally; retail sales were up 12.4 percent in 1981 , compared with 9.2 percent nationally. Such strength prompts economists such as Mr. Godfrey to conclude, ''Florida will have a growth recession, not a real recession in 1982.''
This is not to say Florida has not felt the cold economic winds. The phosphate industry has slumped as farm income has stagnated. And the citrus industry has had its second bad year in a row due to a freeze, imports from Brazil, and relatively low market prices.
Furthermore, the pillars of Florida's economy -- residential construction and tourism -- both fell last year. David Rinker, vice-president at Rinker Materials , one of the state's largest ready-mix-concrete producers, says high interest rates have finally put the damper on residential construction. But, he adds, commercial construction - particularly in Jacksonville and Miami -- has been strong, giving some support to the construction business. Commercial construction in the state was up 27 percent last year, while residential construction was down 17 percent.
Although tourism was down 0.5 percent in terms of total numbers visiting the state, the visitors spent 9 percent more last year, Mr. Godfrey says. This year, predicts Mr. Fishkind, tourism will show a 4.6 percent gain in terms of the number of visitors, with the best part of the tourism year coming in the second half. The opening of Disney World's new project, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow), in October should give tourism in the state a boost.
However, as the Fed underscores in its report, a lot depends on the national economy. ''An economy that relies on the spending of 35 million tourists and 300 ,000 new residents a year for income gains is vulnerable when national forces restrict those inflows,'' says a report written by Donald L. Koch, former chief economist at Barnett Banks, and Delores W. Steinhauser.
The state must also counter a considerable amount of bad press coverage on south Florida as a drug and crime capital. This has kept many Europeans away from the beaches. The strong dollar has also dampened enthusiasm from the Latin American tourist, a recent big spender in the Miami area.
But neither tourism nor construction has suffered as much as in the 1974-75 recession. ''I think we've learned something since then,'' says Mr. Rinker, remarking that the real estate industry has not reached the same speculative excesses it did in 1974.
The state has diversified its economy sufficiently to ensure growth even when these two important sectors are down. The aerospace and defense industries have become a significant part of Florida's economy. The state touts an ''electronics belt,'' starting to stretch across the middle of Florida. Such companies as Burroughs, Motorola, Harris Corporation, and Bendix have major investments in electronics plants in Florida. If Western Electric, a subsidiary of AT&T, builds a proposed $500 million plant in Orlando, it should add another stabilizing influence on an economy that has been mainly based on suntan oil and concrete.