RICH CHILD OF THE SOUTH

AN ECONOMIC LOOK AT MODERN FLORIDA

 

POST WAR BOOM: Florida's tremendous growth in population and wealth after World War II and for the next thirty years equaled the impact of the Florida Land Boom in changing Florida's economic roots, its political structure, and its priorities. Once the least populated and developed state in the least developed region of the nation, Florida grew up to become the South's most populated state, soon to become the third most populated in the United States.

The reasons for this  growth was easily discernible: a desirable climate, inexpensive land, a diversity of resources, and a history of accepted outside investors and residents. Florida was portrayed as a low tax, friendly environment for anyone with ambitions. More and more people had both a pension and Social Security for retirement and when towns like Port Charlotte offered lots at $10 down and $10 month, Florida seemed a realistic paradise.

Tourism, of course, dominated the headlines, particularly after 1970 when thanks to a mouse called Mickey, Central Florida became the family vacation kingdom of the world. But old standbys like citrus, fishing, and phosphate mining continued to add statistics to new industries, including space and military technology (at least until 1985), light industry, and the enormous health and retail services necessary for Florida's massive population increase.

All of these factors made many other states envious of Florida's economic and political growth. As one might expect, these changes were not made without serious challenges to the state's fragile environment, its economic stability, and the quality of the Florida life style that brought so many people to Florida since the days of the railroad barons.


AGRICULTURAL KINGDOMS

THE ORANGE EMPIRE. To millions of people around the world, the color orange is as synonymous with Florida as sunshine yellow. Florida ranks first in "orange juice" and first in dozens of other fruit and vegetable products. Unfortunately, the lure of selling farms for development, the low profit markets for agriculture, and competition of foreign products helped by NAFTA may continue to decline the agricultural market. Even attempts to identify Florida products in stores over foreign crops may not offset the trend.

The orange empire developed its own leadership from Florida Cracker homesteaders many living in Florida in the mid-1800's. Ben Hill Griffin of Frostproof began with a ten acre wedding gift from his farmer father, and became a millionaire citrus man and Florida Senator. With only a one-armed helper as his staff, Griffin cleared the woods for citrus and eventually had a farm of 6,000 acres and a 15,000 acre cattle ranch. He became the chief orange producer for Coca-Cola's Minute Maid brand.

The days of the small gentleman grower are good, replaced by large scale investors and a maze of administrative and commercial operations, headed by the Florida Citrus Mutual started to increase citrus prices. There even developed in the 1940's a statewide detective network to catch nighttime orange thieves.

The alliance between the State of Florida's agricultural research facilities and the citrus industry is deep rooted. Symbolic of that relationship is the story of success of Dr. Louis Gardner MacDowell, Research Director of the Citrus Commission and developer of the concentrated orange juice process in the 1940's and a revolution in the citrus industry.

In the days of fresh oranges, packers threw out as much as 40% of the oranges as split or bruised fruit. There are few injured fruit in the era of concentrated oranges. With Japan a major consumer of orange juice, the importance of a worldwide market is apparent. Giant machines sort and slice oranges while as many as four million oranges may be waiting pasteurization in the huge vats of the large processing plants. Crates are something that people collect as souvenirs while words like "blend content" are terms of conversation.

The Tropicana plant in Bradenton has sent a quarter million quarts of orange juice into Los Angeles, California, in a year. In winter, part of the annual crop sits in gigantic block floes which resemble white whales. Orange by-products, such as perfume and soap, eliminate much waste.



THE VEGETABLE BIN. While tobacco and pecans still grow in North Florida, Florida gains more notoriety from his winter vegetable crop and sugar crop located in South Florida. Old winter crops of the 1920's like Boston lettuce, lima beans, and English peas have been replaced with more popular crops like cauliflower, broccoli, and sweet corn. Since World War II, small farmers have been driven from this area by competition from large scale farming and better opportunities in real estate development.

Good transportation and migratory farm workers were the keys to inexpensive winter crops that turned much of the interior of South Florida into a harvest of vegetables and fruits. Now competition from Latin America with the end to trade barriers, environmental pressures, and rising costs challenge the continued growth of this industry. Still, it is impressive to drive down US 27 in February and March and see as many as a hundred boxcars of winter produce heading northward with Florida tomatoes, squash, snap beans, and celery.

Modern cultivation will no longer assure Florida's growth in many traditional agricultural areas. Sugar production which mushroomed to "Number One" after the economic blockade of Castro's Cuba in the 1960's and the development of sugar along the eastern side of Lake Okeechobee now faces environmental pressures to curtail growth due to its impact upon the flow of quality water to the Everglades. The return of Latin sugar would also jeopardize this crop.

An area of agricultural growth has been the horticultural industry not only to serve Florida's booming population but also national interest in exotic and traditional plants. Winter flowers light the night air in Southwest Florida as acres of plants are produced for shipment into the North. Growing plants for an urban America will remain a Florida advantage. There is even a small wine industry from Jacksonville to Fort Myers that may not have great economic impact, but nevertheless attracts tourists.


THE TOURIST STATE

THE GREAT TOURIST STATE. Tourism remains the greatest source of status for Florida across the globe. WithWalt Disney World, Florida has the major tourist destination on the planet and this works as an advantage in promoting other Florida attractions despite the determination of the people in Buena Vista to keep every penny spent within their grasp. The power of the Disney Empire still makes it more difficult for small family tourist operations to survive.

Tourism is effected by the economy, the cost of transportation, the weather (up North, not Florida), and other intangibles, but the trend toward more leisure time, early retirement, and credit purchasing makes a Florida vacation more accessible than even thirty years ago.

Florida tourism has been influenced by every technological development, but remains unchanged in some regards since the early 1900's: good weather, transportation access, and receptive hosts. The winter season and the airplane dominated the tourist season of Southeast Florida. The summer season and the automobile dominate the tourist season for the Panhandle and North Florida. Walt Disney dominates twenty per cent of Florida's tourist travel regardless of the year.

Foreign tourism plays an important role in Florida's plans as six to seven million foreign tourists spend more money per day than American visitors. Recent statistics include: 30.9% from Europe (mainly Great Britain and Germany), 30.7% from Canada, and 18.8% from South America (Caribbean, Brazil, Central America). There are many days at Disney World where the colorfully T-shirted Brazilian tourists turn the area into a Latin convention atmosphere.

Orlando/Osceola has more hotel rooms than New York City. The state has 3,550 hotels and motels and countless rental apartments. Some 414,823 people were employed in restaurants and bars in 1994, a figure than doesn't equate with the state's population. There are almost one hundred thousand people working in amusement centers and 18,000 people can be found in automobile rental outlets.


IN THE GROUND - MINING

In contrast to the tourist industry which features Florida's above ground assets, phosphate and building materials exploit Florida's below ground resources. Since 1900, Florida has been a world leader in phosphate, but the industry, now concentrated in Central Florida, is sensitive to new resources in the Middle East and Russia, transportation costs, and Florida's wage scale. Many of the foreign competitors are American firms that purchased fields in Morocco and Tunisia. Florida's crushed stone faces a nearby foe in the Yucatan.

If local phosphate resourcesdecline, Florida has the firms to process foreign phosphate into fertilizer and by-products. Offshore oil drillingideas were quelled in the 1970's and is not unlikely to be a factor.


TRAVEL BY LAND, BY AIR, AND BY SEA

Transportation is vital for the tourism industry and ,with Miami the "Number One Cruise Port" in the world, transportation is a tourist industry. Florida's location with Latin America continues to make the state the gateway to Central and South America, and with the increased standard of living in Latin America, Florida's exports of machinery, automobiles, and electronics will continue to grow. Florida, in return, might expand imports from Latin America with the free trade agreement. Tampa is the closest port to the Panama Canal.

Light industry, citrus, and phosphate are still important products for Florida ports. Tampa is still a major phosphate port. Miami supplies the growing tourist industry of the Bahamas with vital food, fuel, and supplies. The rest of the Caribbean Basin is a major market for the transport of goods from Florida.

The aviation industry is still a major part of the Florida landscape despite the death of airlines that were born in Florida in the 1940's. Florida's location assures its place as the access point to Latin America and Africa, two areas where air traffic will increase as standard of living increases. The greatest airport boom has been in Orlando where Walt Disney World has created a huge charter and international flight boom.


NEW ECONOMIC FORCES

While Florida is still regarded as a tourist and agrarian state, residents know that since World War II Florida's job growth has developed with light industry and the service industry. The per capita income in Florida surpassed its Southern neighbors in the 1950's, but low labor costs, good climate, and the governmental support continue to help Florida grow in manufacturing.

Only retail, health, and personal services has increased more percentage wise than manufacturing, but there has been a shift in the nature of manufacturing since the decline of NASA growth and the end of the Cold War.

In the 1950's and 1960's Florida gained many of the glamour industries in the nation, thanks to the selection ofCape Canaveral for the space program and Florida's natural climate for aviation and large scale construction. Electronics, jet engines, nuclear research, and space communications meant important educational resources for Florida.

Among the leading lights in Florida's technological revolution included the huge Martin Company, who brought 35,000 jobs to the Orlando area and the Pratt & Whitney Aircraft complex near West Palm Beach. Vero Beach was the home of Piper Aircraftwhich saw a boom in the 1950's. Honeywell make Pinellas County home, Sperry Microwave came to Clearwater and United States Industries arrived in Pompano Beach.

Traditional Florida industries continued to operate, such as the pleasure boat industry in the Manatee-Sarasota area and the mobile home industry in North Central and Panhandle Florida. After 1980, there was a shift to computer technology, telecommunications, and electronics, which probably favors the growth of small firms with skilled workers. The problem is whether Florida has the labor skills for firms that do not plan to import outside employees.


OTHER INDUSTRIES

With its huge retirement population added to the state's normal population explosion, it is not surprising that health services is a major industry. There are 2.6 million Floridians who are Medicare beneficiaries, one fifth of them in HMOs. A half million people work in health services and the industry is generally recession resistant, a reason why every city wants more health operations. The state has six veteran's hospitals: St. Petersburg, Gainesville, Lake City, Miami, Tampa, and West Palm Beach.

While the end of World War II closed down dozens of small airfields and the end of the Cold War closed other facilities, there is still a large military presence in Florida. Mayport Naval Station by Jacksonville is one of the two major Atlantic naval facilities. Eglin Air Force Basein the nation's largest. MacDill Air Base in Tampa survived budget cuts and is the home of Central Command which ran Desert Storm.

Florida's retail industry is a major battleground, but with the fastest growing large state in the nation, Florida's customers will benefit from the increased competition. Old Florida names like Maas Brothers and Byrons vanish from the retail landscape as notable up scale nation firms like Lord & Taylor, Macy's, Sak's Fifth Avenue, and even Neiman Marcus enter the market. Giant malls convert downtowns into ghost towns, except in innovative small towns, like Dade City and Tarpon Springs, which have developed antique centers and rustic Florida.

Large scale wholesale operations like Office Depot (Delray Beach), Barnes & Noble, and CompUSA have sliced the retail trade of larger cities. Florida has also become a logical area to open and develop a restaurant chain, since the days of Red Lobster. Recent additions have included: Hooters (Clearwater), Outback Steakhouse and Carabba's (Tampa), and Checkers (St. Petersburg).

The forests of North Florida might be considered old industry in Florida, but, besides the arrival of small plants, the lumber trade has changed. The big St. Joe Paper Company (1938) shifted from the days of pulpwood and corrugated boxes to a plant producing chemicals. The Buckeye Cellulose Corporation in Perry, the Burlington Hosiery Company of Green Cove Springs, and the nylon making Chemstand & American Cnamid Plant in Pensacola were examples of postwar plants in North Florida.

North Florida has emerged as a growth area for retirement communities and small developments. With a climate milder than the Carolinas, this industry will continue to expand and change the face of North Florida.

Somewhat disappointing has been the failure of theoceanography frontier of booming as predicted in the 1960's. Florida still has one of the most notable marine science centers in the University of Miami's Institute of Marine Science and Miami also hosted the International Oceanographic Foundation. Coral Gables has the National Hurricane Center.


Another important employer in Florida is the education industry, without which most of the economic diversity of the State of Florida would be impossible. Not only is education the largest employer in most counties, it is one of Florida's most serious challenges. The rise of entitlement and expenditures has reduced education's share of state revenues from 38% to 28% by 1995, causing grave concerns about Florida's ability to compete for future jobs.

Th extensive community college system, where I taught for 38 years, meant that 90% of the population was within one hour drive of low-cost college or training in a variety of fields.The development of online courses tied the rural college population to more training opportunities.

Florida has laid the educational foundation with the rapid expansion of state universities in urban centers like Tampa, Miami, Jacksonville, Orlando, and Pensacola. These newer colleges have the population, but find themselves competing for programs and dollars against Florida's original schools located in less populated regions.More the University of South Florida and the University of Central Florida (even Florida International) have the potential to have double the student population of the University of Florida and Florida State University.

Florida enters the twenty-first century with its old economic roots of tourism and agriculture geared for new challenges, but with a more balanced and diverse economic base.

.