The past year was the best for South Florida’s economy since the onset of the Great Recession, but we’re not out of the woods yet. A decrease in unemployment and improving home prices suggest that the worst is behind us, but the road to a full recovery is full of challenges.
The good news: In Miami-Dade County, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent (not great, but improved), and Broward did even better, dropping to 5.2 percent. Home and condo prices in both counties continue to post double-digit gains from 2012 levels, thanks in part to buyers from Latin America.
The torrid pace of sales slowed down recently, but that’s not altogether a bad thing.
The project to deepen PortMiami’s channel to make it suitable for super-sized container vessels continues on schedule to be completed in 2015. This is vital to the community because international trade is crucial for the growth of the region’s economy. Dredging the port ensures that Miami can remain among the best and most modern ports on the East Coast.
Suddenly, downtown Miami is blossoming. Young singles and families moved into the long-neglected area and new residential buildings and businesses were ready to accommodate them. But it also brings challenges: making the area more liveable and pedestrian friendly and dealing with increased traffic. The Downtown Pedestrian Priority Zone, unveiled by the city, is a promising start.
The opening of the Perez Art Museum Miami capped a year of exciting developments related to the arts. New galleries and cinemas in the downtown area and the recurring success of Art Basel made the case that culture can help produce a robust economy.
OK, Silicon Valley in the tropics we’re not. But this month’s SIME MIA technology conference in Miami Beach, which drew 600 participants, indicates that tech innovators and entrepreneurs see South Florida as a possible technology hub in the future. A strong public-education system, from elementary school to university, is a key to success, along with a nurturing business environment.
There was much more in the way of good news: the exit from bankruptcy of American Airlines and the successful merger with US Airways; and he launch of Fusion, an English-language cable network in Doral with 200 new hires.
Not everything came up roses. South Florida still lacks a modern, upscale convention center. A referendum on the issue in Miami Beach was blocked by the courts. Community leaders need to figure out how to move on, even if it means putting the center somewhere else.
The Beacon Council got a new leader, but questions remain about its $4 million subsidy from the county. That has to get straightened out to ensure that the private and public sectors work in tandem on economic development.
Meanwhile, the promise of Marlins Stadium to revitalize Little Havana remains unfulfilled, and the effort to bring full-bore casino gambling to South Florida will once again dominate the legislative session.
Much depends, of course, on what happens with the national economy. If it improves, so should ours. It would help if the federal government manages to avoid another foolhardy shutdown.
Friday: Turning the corner, II