A new Brookings Institution report evaluating the 100 largest U.S. metro areas ranks Lakeland (Polk County), Orlando and Tampa among the 20 weakest performers. the report, released Thursday, tracks changes in economic output, employment, home prices and other indicators through the second quarter of 2011.
According to Brookings, Polk's economy has grown just 0.9 percent since hitting its trough in the first quarter of 2010, compared with an average 4.5 percent growth rate among all metros in the study since they hit their own low points. the only areas with less growth were Tampa (0.6 percent); Sacramento, Calif. (0.6 percent); and Cape Coral (no growth).
Polk also scored among the bottom 20 metros or worse when it came to gains in jobs and home prices.
"Housing is the beginning of all your problems," said Howard Wial, a Brookings fellow and one of the study's authors. "So much of your employment depended directly or indirectly on housing."
The challenge for Polk and other struggling metros is to focus on adding jobs in industries that don't center around housing, Wial said.
"This means finding a way to grow that's not so dependent on tourism and retirement, which made housing so important to Florida. That's easy to say and hard to do, because it's not a short-term solution," he said.
The Brookings report said the strongest-performing metros were generally those with economies that rely heavily on government (such as Washington, D.C., and state capitals), education and energy production. Areas that have suffered most since the recession include those with large booms and busts in home prices.
"I think one of the things we have suffered from here that has stymied recovery is there hasn't been a clear, distinct bottom on real estate prices," said Gary Ralston, who tracks local employment and housing data and is managing partner of a Lakeland-based real estate firm.
"We are suffering from employment worse than the state and worse than the nation. we shouldn't be surprised that we have real estate pricing (issues)," said Ralston, of Coldwell Banker Commercial Saunders Ralston Dantzler Realty. "Until there's a reversal in employment, I don't think you're going to have a reversal in (housing) demand."
Recruiting new companies and supporting existing firms with sustainable business models has become even more of a priority for Polk in recent years, said Rodney Carson, director of economic development for the Central Florida Development Council.
Specifically, the county has targeted industries for development that include life sciences and medical services, research and engineering, agribusiness, and supply chain management, he said.
Polk also wants to support firms that could operate here while benefitting from the economic strengths of Tampa and Orlando, Carson said.
"I think our biggest hurdle is continuing to diversify the Florida economy as a whole," Carson said. "Florida and other states have become dependent on one or two sectors, which leaves us vulnerable to economic swings."
Though economic performance varied greatly among the areas studied, the Brookings report indicates the U.S. recovery has "stalled," with overall slow growth in jobs and economic output, and widespread declines in home prices and workers' earnings.
The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. To view the full report online, visit brookings.edu/metro/MetroMonitor.aspx.
[ Kyle Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7584. ]
<a href="http://www.theledger.com/article/20110915/NEWS/110919562/1134?Title=Polk-Recovery-Among-the-Weakesttag:news.google.com,2005:cluster=http://www.theledger.com/article/20110915/NEWS/110919562/1134?Title=Polk-Recovery-Among-the-WeakestFri, 16 Sep 2011 03:34:33 GMT 00:00">Polk Economic Recovery Among the Nation's Weakest