Tallahassee Chamber holds Economic Forecast breakfast

By: Mariel Carbone
February 2, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV)-- Eyes open to economic trends.

The Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce held its 2017 Economic Forecast breakfast, Thursday morning. The event featured speaker Amy Baker, the Chief Economist for the Florida Legislature. As well as local developers.

Baker reviewed statewide economic trends and described Florida's economy as being on the upswing. She said the job market is back to where it was prior to the 2008 recession, and that the state is showing strong growth, typically ranking about 6th or 7th out of all the states nationwide.

Although the job market seems to have leveled out, job creation has not returned to a "normal" level. But, it is important that the market keeps pace with the growing population across the state. Specifically, jobs in the construction field have not fully recovered from the recession. However, an increase in jobs in tourism and hospitality are making up for that.

Overall, she reports that the state economy is moving in a positive direction.

"The economy for the whole state is looking very stable," said Baker. "It's continuing to grow, it's continuing to improve. So even though construction is still a drag in that it's not back to normal, it's continuing to make progress every year."

She said she expects construction jobs to return to normal within the next five years.

Another topic to keep an eye on, is the impact of baby boomers. Between year's 2020 and 2040, Baker said the state will feel the biggest impact by this generation, as more people begin to retire and move to Florida. Economically, the state will need to prepare for influx, but it also can't forget about the needs of families and millennials.

Right now, that is one age group the City of Tallahassee is working to target- millennials-, as mixed-use development is set to take place in Downtown Tallahassee. The idea is to create an 18-hour downtown, featuring a live, work, play environment.

It is an endeavor the City has been chasing, yet the recent announcement of the coming closure of the downtown Walgreens, has some residents doubting the possibility of it.

Yet, Chamber Chair Reggie Bouthillier said other signs point to the concept being achievable.

"I think if you look at what has been accomplished from a community stand point at Gaines Street and what you're seeing in Midtown and you start to see that those are thriving 18-hour areas, I think absolutely the same thing can happen in the Downtown area," said Bouthillier.

The Chamber is pushing a similar "live, work, play" environment at Bannerman's Crossing, which includes retail, restaurants, and eventually, residential space.

Yet, even with residential development such as these, both Baker and the Chamber said an emphasis still needs to be made on expanding
affordable housing. Rick Kearney, who is the man behind the City's homeless shelter- the Kearney Center- is working to do just that.

Kearney presented his evolving plans for what he calls "the Dwellings" at Thursday's event. The Dwellings will be a community of "tiny houses" located on Blountstown Highway off of Capital Circle NW. The community is intended to be affordable housing with assisted living; with services offered within the community, as well as employment opportunities for residents. Rent will be about $600 per month, and the development will include a community center and coffee shop.

Kearney said the project is the way of the future.

"This is going to be a project that is going to lead the way for the country," said Kearney. "Other communities are starving for this concept and waiting for government or waiting for HUD to come in and figure out how to do this is not going to work. The private sector, entrepreneurial. This pays for itself, there's no subsidies here, this is a private sector initiative."

Kearney said he will have local officials and stakeholders out to tour the land at the end of February. Construction will begin in March.

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