19 March 2008

Vacation Reflections: The View from South Florida

High winds and turbulent waters have kept us off the beach and boats this year in Hobe Sound.

As we retreat to the pool and search for alternative ways to play during Spring Break, it's afforded me more time than usual for reflection.

Real estate is in the dumps down here and sales are sluggish, according to people familiar with the situation. Foreclosures in South Florida continue to rise and the region leads the nation in inflation.

Even so, just driving around here there seems no shortage of development projects happening in Martin County, despite the economic slowdown.

There also seems to be an burgeoning concern about the South Florida environment and increasing sentiment favoring opportunities in the new green economy.

A few examples:

Publix Super Markets has a new organic market play, GreenWise, that is designed to capture a growing healthy food market segment. It started with small sections of shelf space in their regular stores, but is expanding to at least three freestanding locations in 2008.

Martin County has plans to purchase 1,900 acres of the Harmony Ranch and an additional 1,222-acre property near a Florida Power & Light power plant as part of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

Martin County has thus far spent $13.2M of an expected $25M in sales tax revenue for land conservation, according to Jim Sherman, assistant county administrator.

A recently released survey conducted by the South Forida Business Journal indicated that a majority of Florida residents approve of increased spending on the state's solar energy infrastructure.

87 percent of South Florida residents surveyed support such investments to help the Sunshine State seize a solar future. (See article: http://tinyurl.com/23soz4)

Wind projects are also picking up, with St. Lucie Wind leading the way, despite the usual NIMBY hang-ups associated with large wind farms. And Florida's DEP recently commissioned a study to assess the potential for inland wind development. With the wind at 20 mph the past few days around here, it seems an abundant resource.

So, the market fluctuations of the past few days continue to play out and potential bank collapses loom. All of this affects South Floridians, especially those in the housing market, as much if not more than elsewhere in the country.

In terms of what I see here on the Treasure Coast this week, there is little panic and much forward thinking. Of course, it could just be the effects of four days in the sun, but I don't think so.

Update: Representative Tim Mahoney (D-Palm Beach Gardens) on the future of Florida and the Treasure Coast: "We can never be a development-based state again. We cannot build our economy around home building. We're just running out of space. We have to have a new industry; we have to broaden our economy. The things we have to look at that are home runs for us are tourism, eco-tourism, biofuels, biotech."