Signs of recovery
Marc Valero | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Rising stock prices and a lower unemployment rate are fueling hopes that the U.S. economy is improving after a prolonged recession took hold around 2008.
Published: January 29, 2013
Published: January 29, 2013
There have been glimmers of hope before, but other indicators point to a turnaround that could be the real thing.
Auto sales were up 13 percent in 2012 and Monday it was announced that U.S. orders for durable goods rose 4.6 percent in December, which is a sign of strength in manufacturing.
But, are there any signs of an economic recovery in Highlands County?
The shell of the shopping/business plaza at 7441 U.S. 27, North Sebring, was completed in 2010, but the slow economy delayed the inside completion work, until now, said Jeff Ensley, general contractor with Pathfinder Consulting Inc.
He is completing the interior buildout right now, Endsley said.
A frozen yogurt shop will be going into the plaza.
"It has been a struggle to rent it," he said. "You would like to think the economy is improving, but we are still struggling."
Highlands County Citrus Grower Association Executive Director Ray Royce noted many positive economic signs.
"The economy in Highlands Count is definitely in the recovery mode, probably slow and steady, but definitely trending better," he said.
The unemployment rate continues to drop, which is always good news, he said.
From an agricultural standpoint, prices are "relatively good" for oranges, and prices are "pretty darn good" for cattle, Royce said. The ornamental nursery industry is starting to pick up a bit.
Construction continues to lag quite a bit in the county, he said. He spoke to a general contractor recently who is still finding work, but in Sarasota County.
At Home Depot recently he noticed 15 people at the checkout in the garden department, Royce said.
"To me when people are buying plants and stuff for their yards it means they are feeling a little more confident in the economy because they are using some disposable income on something they don't absolutely have to have," he said
As the vice mayor of Lake Placid, Royce said things are going pretty good with a few new small businesses opening in town and a couple of homes under construction.
A positive outlook by businesses and individuals creates momentum, he said.
"It's certainly not boom times, but things seem to be slowly, but steadily getting better," Royce stressed.
South Florida State College President Norm Stephens Jr. said he believes the economy is improving.
College enrollment typically increases during tough economic times, he noted.
After a tremendous increase during the first three or four years of the economic downturn, enrollment is flat at SFSC and at many colleges in the state, he said, which is an indication that some people are finding jobs.
Stephens joked that he is looking for a particular indication of an improved local economy.
"I want to see who is going to move into the old Circuit City store" he quipped. "When that fills up, it means we have returned."
Stephens is also looking for another sign of an improved local economy – the building of a Sam's Club.
Corporate Walmart Inc. confirmed in May 2009 that a store would be built at the corner of Bayview and U.S. 27, but after clearing a couple of buildings from the property in the summer of 2011, there has been no word on when the members-only wholesale store will be built.
Heartland Workforce Director of Information and Technology Alan Grimes noted that the Highlands County unemployment rate has improved significantly from 10.4 percent in December 2011 to 7.8 percent in December 2012.
People are finding jobs, but they are not paying as much as the previous jobs they might have held, he said.
There are a lot of issues with what we call "self sufficient" wages, Grimes said.
"A lot of people around here are probably just scraping bottom at this point trying to make a living," he said.
Things will slowly improve according to the state of Florida, which expects more jobs this year, primarily in construction and retail, he said, but these are called recovery jobs – they were lost when the recession started and now they are starting to come back.
Whether you count them as old jobs or new jobs, it doesn't matter, people are getting the work, Grimes noted.
Realtor Dale Stewart of MIDFLORIDA Real Estate Sales said it seems like things are getting closer to being stable, but it is her understanding that there will be another "deluge" of home foreclosures around the end of February.
Inventory is down a little, she said. There are still plenty of houses for sale, but not too many.
"Things are selling," Stewart said. Interest rates are low and prices are low so it's a "wonderful" time to buy, she said.
email@example.com (863) 386-5826