Tourism and investment spending lead Florida’s economic recovery

Consumer spending in Florida grew 5.8 percent from last year, according to first-quarter data released Wednesday by Coral Gables-based Washington Economics Group.

The moderate growth is a sign of a sustainable economic recovery led by tourism and investment spending, said Tony Villamil, founder and principal of the group.

“It’s positive for the long term because it is not the boom-bust cycle of the past,” Villamil said.

Spending on Florida tourism and recreation increased 6.4 percent from the same quarter last year. That figure includes taxable sales on hotels, bars, restaurants, gift shops and sports.

Investment spending, or purchases of building materials and business supplies, hit $7.2 billion in March. That marks 7.4 percent growth from last year.

The recession hit Florida harder than most states, but its higher-than-average employment growth in 2014 is spurring consumer spending, Villamil said.

Total retail sales increased a healthy 5.3 percent from last year, reaching $17.7 billion.

The Florida economy has not reached pre-recession levels, but small gains are a good sign that the state will avoid plunging employment and productivity, according to the report.

“We’re just beginning to recover,” Villamil said. “It’s growing, but the base is relatively low.”