Observations on South Florida business
At a recent business event in Miami, Brazilian developer Marcelo Kingston asked his audience to guess the nationality of the first buyer at 57 Ocean, the ultra-luxury condo tower under construction in Miami Beach.
This is an important question if you’re involved in real estate in South Florida. Kingston is managing partner of Brazil-based Multiplan Real Estate Asset Management and 57 Ocean is one of the region’s most high-profile luxury residential projects.
Developers such as Kingston face a challenge selling luxury condos now that the wave of South American buyers has ebbed, stung by struggling economies at home and the strength of the U.S. dollar. The greenback’s strength relative to other currencies has spooked Europeans and Canadians, too.
But any entrepreneur can draw lessons here. Fact is, your customers may change over time, whether you’re selling clothes or technical services. Finding them in times of economic stress will help you manage any downturn.
The audience attending the South Florida Business & Wealth event in Miami recently shouted their answers while Kingston shook his head. Brazil? No. Colombia? No. Russia? No. None of the usual suspects.
Then Kingston revealed the nationality of his first buyer: Romanian.
Kingston’s guessing game with his audience illustrated his point that it’s going to be a lot harder to find customers for luxury residences in South Florida. But there’s hope that they’re out there — and they may come from unexpected places such as Romania.
There’s an article making the rounds in economic-development circles that’s a familiar story for anyone who’s lived in Florida for a time.
The Stateline article is titled “Population Growth Doesn’t Equal Wage Growth in These Cities” and you can read it by clicking here.
It’s true that low-wage jobs have vexed government and economic-development folks in the Sunshine State for decades. The article accurately points out that some cities in Florida have experienced significant population growth without accompanying wage gains.
But let’s keep a few things in perspective before we accept the statement by a Federal Reserve analyst that parts of Florida are growing poorer even as their populations rise.
•Florida’s population grows significantly during economic expansions. This means Florida cities will post big gains relative to other U.S. cities, making the eye-popping numbers good fodder for people who write stories about Census data. Longtime observers of Florida’s economy know some version of this story has appeared during every economic expansion in Florida.
•Wages are a lagging indicator. Wage earners are usually among the last to feel an economic expansion as labor markets must first tighten. Fact is, population gains and wage increases don’t usually rise in tandem.
•The wage gains in the chart accompanying the story are adjusted for inflation gains of 41.66%. While this may be appropriate, the adjustment makes the wage gains appear insignificant relative to population growth.
•Tourism drives Florida. Yes, there are plenty of low-wage jobs in the tourism business, but the fact is that the industry drives the rest of the economy and that ultimately leads to higher wages for Floridians. People vacation in Florida and they buy homes here. Once they realize the positive quality of life, they move their businesses, their skills and their wealth here. While the proportion of low-wage and high-wage jobs may still be skewed to the lower end, it’s safe to say there are more higher-paying jobs in Florida today than, say, 10 years ago.
So let’s be wary of conclusions that fast-growing Florida cities are poorer. Population growth is nothing to fear.
Go ahead and pull out your phone to type Allapattah.
That’s what more than a few people did at a real estate conference organized by The Real Deal recently when developers mentioned they were exploring Allapattah.
You’ll be forgiven if you searched Allapattah on Google. No way you spelled it right the first time, either. And it’s not exactly a destination, unless you have business with the manufacturers or distributors in the largely industrial area.
The Miami neighborhood is named after the Seminole word for alligator. The map shows the area lies to the west of white-hot Wynwood, the arts district that’s seen an explosion of real estate speculation in recent years.
Speaking to hundreds of real estate professionals at The Real Deal event, developer Moishe Mana says he’s talking to investors about Allapattah, where he’s planning to build a significant number of residences and commercial space.
For now, though, the multifamily residential real estate market has softened and developers are hesitating to build new condos. Investors from South America have slowed their purchases of U.S. real estate, especially in Miami.
Still, Mana and others are undeterred by forecasts of a slowdown, so keep your eye on this overlooked area. It may be worth more than a glance the next time you’re driving by.
Has Miami Beach lost its mojo?
That was the headline in a recent article in the Miami Herald.
Longtime observers of Florida real estate will recognize the familiar boom-and-bust pattern. Neighborhoods, cities and sometimes even the entire state become so hot that speculators, developers and financiers stampede in and snap up properties without regard for sound economics.
Then, when the economy cools and other areas compete for business with lower costs, cities such as Miami Beach suffer the inevitable consequences.
“At one point, I was purchasing property on South Collins for up to $1,800 a square foot for big-box clients. Now I get $700 because the retailers can’t bring in enough people to make those numbers work,” Drew Kristol, vice president at Marcus & Millichap tells the Herald.
In Florida, it’s all so predictable.
You could easily substitute formerly hot areas of Tampa or Orlando for Miami Beach. It’s a sure bet that today’s popular areas of Miami such as Brickell and Wynwood will one day lose their shine too when developers realize businesses refuse to pay exorbitant rents.
You can’t forecast real estate cycles with precision, but charging $1,800 a square foot is surely a sign that speculation is rampant. How is it that Lincoln Road is the fifth most-expensive shopping street in the U.S., according to Business Insider?
If you’re an investor, it pays to understand Florida’s boom-and-bust pattern. This is how you make money in Florida real estate.
Most people would rather forget 2008.
That was the year the U.S. financial crisis took a turn for the worse and Florida’s real estate market crashed.
But it was also the year that Florida taxpayers approved a constitutional amendment that made several changes to how municipalities tax commercial property, rental property and other non-homesteaded property.
One of the provisions of the 2008 amendment to the Florida Constitution was the approval of a 10% cap on the growth of non-homesteaded assessed value. This was a victory for owners of commercial property as well as those who own vacation homes in Florida or second homes here.
That’s because non-homestead property owners bore the brunt of increases in tax assessments prior to 2008 while homesteaded owners of residential property were shielded by an assessment cap thanks to Save Our Homes and its champion, Lee County Property Appraiser Kenneth Wilkinson.
But there was a hitch to the 2008 amendment: the 10% cap wasn’t meant to be permanent and it was given a 10-year life before expiring. Now the cap is scheduled to be repealed on Jan. 1 unless voters approve a new amendment on the ballot in November.
Who is against Amendment 2? It’s not clear there is any opposition, even from municipalities that stand to benefit. Perhaps the biggest challenge is voter fatigue and some worry that Floridians may vote “no” on every amendment by default. It needs the approval of 60% of voters to pass.
Florida TaxWatch calculated that failure to pass Amendment 2 could mean a tax increase of more than $700 million, especially on businesses in the state. The organization has a good primer on why Amendment 2 is so important. Take the time to read it over here here and pass it on to friends.
Have you wondered how Gartner built such a big presence in Fort Myers?
You may have read the news in the Business Observer recently that the technology research firm intends to significantly grow its presence in Southwest Florida — again. Gartner already has 1,600 employees in four buildings in the Gateway area of Fort Myers.
If you live in Fort Myers, there’s a good chance you know someone who works for Gartner and raves about this generous employer. It’s the kind of company Lee County has strived to recruit to diversify its economy from housing and tourism.
Still, Southwest Florida isn’t exactly a technology hub, so you’ve got to wonder what brought Gartner to Fort Myers in the first place. The publicly traded company (symbol: IT; recent price: $134) is headquartered in Stamford, Conn., and reported $3.3 billion in revenues in 2017. A member of the S&P 500 listed on the New York Stock Exchange, Gartner is the kind of clean tech company every community would love to attract.
Chalk it up to shrewd “who-you-know” economic development.
Turns out, Manny Fernandez, the former president and CEO, purchased a vacation home on Sanibel, the barrier island near Fort Myers in 1996. He loved the area so much that in 1997 the company relocated its accounting department from Connecticut to Southwest Florida.
That initial move was the start of a 20-year relationship that has turned Gartner into one of the biggest private employers in Southwest Florida. The personal connection with the CEO helped plant the seed for this economic development success story.
Of course, just because Fernandez had a vacation home here didn’t guarantee Gartner jobs. The company considered other factors for expansion such as cost of doing business, quality of life and even friendliness, Fernandez told the Business Observer in 2011.
But you can’t deny that the CEO’s presence in Lee County gave Southwest Florida a shot. And it’s not unreasonable to think that Gartner will one day consider Fort Myers to relocate its corporate headquarters.
Because where would you rather live and work: Southwest Florida or Connecticut?
You know the answer.
If you judge Southwest Florida’s economic health by the traffic on the roads, you’d be right to say conditions are positive.
Fortunately, the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University can provide the data to back up your anecdotal evidence. Led by Christopher Westley, an economics professor at the university’s Lutgert College of Business, the institute confirms what you’ve noticed on the highways.
Once a month, Westley publishes the Southwest Florida Regional Economic Indicators Report, a useful gauge of the economic wellbeing of the region. We’re fortunate: Not many areas of the country have their own economist gathering and analyzing these kinds of numbers.
Check out the March 2018 report . Westley singles out growth in airport-passenger activity, single-family building permits and tourist-tax revenues. These indicators are part of the virtuous cycle in Florida: tourists visit the region, they spend money at hotels and restaurants and they eventually buy a house.
Consider subscribing to the institute’s emails, which alert you to useful reports on the region’s economic wellbeing. It’ll help you make better decisions that affect your business.
If you live in Lee County, be sure to check out the institute’s quarterly Lee County Business Climate Survey. It provides insights about what your business peers are thinking and planning.
Visit the RERI website by clicking here.
The thickness of the program guide for the Outlook Conference is one indicator of the health of commercial real estate in Southwest Florida.
This year’s event on Jan. 22 in Bonita Springs, organized annually by the CCIM commercial real estate group, featured a program guide thick with 34 advertisements. Let’s just say this year’s tome was prime real estate for anyone involved in Southwest Florida’s office buildings, warehouses and retail centers.
While there were lots of new faces, the first speaker was familiar to all: Lee Arnold, the veteran commercial real estate leader who has guided his Colliers International firms through the wild swings that move the market in the Sunshine State. When Arnold speaks, everyone takes note.
Arnold never disappoints with his presentations and this time was no exception. No droning on about vacancy rates or square feet of absorption. Instead, Arnold warned his audience about the impact of artificial intelligence, big data and technology such as driverless cars on real estate.
A few examples of just-around-the-corner technology: augmented reality identifying restaurants on a street you’re traveling on, virtual reality to create model homes and using big data to determine the best sites for shops. “Everything we know about real estate is changing,” Arnold counseled.
This was a warning to commercial real estate brokers who still use outdated methods to help clients with site selection. Big data is here and commercial real estate professionals need to use it to help their clients find promising locations or be left out. “You’re going to have to deal with big data,” Arnold warned.
Don’t you wish there were more events like the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame Dinner?
Held twice a year alternatively in Collier and Lee counties, these dinners celebrate the entrepreneurs who make Southwest Florida great.
On Oct. 26, hundreds of people packed the Ritz-Carlton Beach Resort in Naples in what’s become the unofficial kickoff to the busy winter season. None would argue with the election of Ed Staros and Mark Wilson to this year’s Business Hall of Fame for Collier County.
Staros is the vice president and managing director of The Ritz-Carlton Resorts of Naples and Mark Wilson is the president and CEO of London Bay Homes. Staros put Naples on the map with two Ritz-Carlton hotels and Wilson’s homebuilding company did the same when it was named America’s Best Homebuilder.
But it’s not just the awards that make these dinners great. Because Junior Achievement teaches valuable entrepreneurial skills in schools, these Hall of Fame entrepreneurs always share nuggets that provide keys to their success. For Staros, the key to success is every employee has a mentor at the company. Wilson advises to work hard and play hard, emphasizing the importance of taking time off to recharge.
You can read more about the event in this Naples Daily News story http://www.naplesnews.com/story/money/2017/10/27/junior-achievement-southwest-florida-adds-two-its-business-hall-fame/802449001/.
And if you’re not familiar with Junior Achievement and its financial literacy programs, be sure to check out the organization’s website: http://jaswfl.org/.
Christopher Westley likes to call Southwest Florida the “bubble of happiness.”
As the director of the Regional Economic Research Institute and an economics professor at Florida Gulf Coast University, Westley is an astute observer of the economic health of the region. Westley’s institute publishes a treasure trove of local economic data ranging from taxable sales to airport activity, home sales, construction permits and employment.
He calls Southwest Florida the “bubble of happiness” because the region benefits strongly in times of economic expansion. This stands in contrast to many other areas of the country that aren’t so fortunate.
Still, as the most recent downturn revealed, sometimes economic booms are too much of a good thing. Westley recently shared his insights with the Entrepreneurs Society of America, an organization that brings together entrepreneurs in the Fort Myers and Naples areas for informative monthly meetings.
It’s worth your time to read the institute’s monthly report of economic indicators to keep tabs on which way the economic winds are blowing. The institute also publishes the Lee County Business Climate Survey and the Industry Diversification Report. All the reports are published on the institute’s web site.
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