Florida's Holiday Wish: Retail Boost That Lasts
Around the State
Florida still has the second-highest foreclosure rate in the nation and its unemployment rate remains dangerously close to 12 percent, but some businesses and economists see signs for cautious optimism for a steady, albeit prolonged, recovery in the months ahead.
According to the Florida Retail Federation, seasonal hires are expected to be around 40,000 this year, up from the 30,000 in recent years. Permanent jobs resulting from those positions are also expected to rise from last year, and holiday sales in the Sunshine State are expected to rise 4 percent over last year, besting the national forecast of a 2 percent increase.
Although job-creation rhetoric flew fast and furious during the 2010 midterm campaigns, some Florida economists are estimating that Florida will add about 1 million jobs over the next seven years, regardless of the legislative policies in place. That outpaces Gov.-elect Rick Scott’s campaign promise to add 700,000 jobs in seven years, but businesses are confident that his low-tax, minimum-regulation, run-government-as-a-business approach will beat even the economists’ predictions for new jobs.
“The economists’ report coming out of the state predicted steady job growth. Combined with Rick Scott’s plan, with a pro-jobs Legislature and a pro-jobs Cabinet, Florida has the right recipe to get back on the right track and get people to work,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce spokesperson Edie Ousley.
The Republican sweep in Florida in the midterm elections and the pro-business policies they are likely to enact have some thinking optimistically about the future. But with the GOP in control of much of state government already, it's unclear how much will change.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has said the Legislature is much more conservative -- in fact, he has created it so, having chosen committee chairmen and a leadership team that lean further to the right. Having picked up veto-proof majorities in both houses, coupled with the replacement of independent, veto-heavy Gov. Charlie Crist with Scott, the voters are virtually assured of a smoother road down which to push conservative legislation.
“I think that voters definitely sent that message of low taxes and burdensome regulation,” Ousley said.
Scott will be sworn in on Jan. 4, 2011, but Florida businesses are hoping that solid holiday sales beforehand will be the catalyst for putting the state on the road to sustained recovery.
To that end, big box stores and other retailers are adapting their tactics to lure shoppers at the onset of the holiday shopping season.
The traditional firing gun of holiday shopping has been midnight of the day after Thanksgiving, the start of “Black Friday,” where retailers go from red to black for the year. Now some stores are pushing those hours back into “Black Thursday,” on Thanksgiving Day itself, offering slashed prices to get shoppers into stores and away from online deals after the big meal. Also, savvy shoppers will look for notices of flash sales on twitter and facebook updates.
“We are seeing some stores open up earlier. The key is getting people in the door,” said Rick McAllister, CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.
Clearly, Florida’s economy will get a boost from increased holiday retail sales, but it is unclear if that will lead to sustained growth at a faster rate than that predicted by state economists. Unemployment and foreclosures remain high, and the recent nationwide scandal involving faulty paperwork used by mortgage handlers to rush through foreclosures threatens to stall the process and prolong the housing crisis.
Those are harsh realities for businesses and entrepreneurs to keep in mind as they look to the retail industry and the recent elections as a source for optimism and holiday cheer.
Reach Gray Rohrer at grohrersunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.