Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Economic Engine Not Yet Roaring, but Getting Louder

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Economic Engine Not Yet Roaring, but Getting Louder

Article excerpt

THAT SOUND YOU HEAR IS THE noise of more pistons firing in the Southwest Florida economy.

Are we back? Impossible to answer.

If by being back, your definition is to those heady days in 2004- 05, I'm not sure we'll ever arrive there.

But signs continue to point to better times.

Even though we had to surrender our No. 1 title for best beach in America to San Diego last week, the glow from Stephen Leatherman's choice of Siesta Key could not have come at a better time.

The tourism piston was already firing quite strongly when the accolade arrived, but Dr. Beach's list injected a new grade of fuel into the tank, which helped speed the recovery during the last few months.

It goes without saying how important tourism is to our economy, whatever our aspirations for diversifying it in coming years.

So it was great to see the term "record" being used to describe our performance in recent months.

First-quarter collections in Manatee County hit a record $3.1 million. That was a gain of 17.8 percent.

In Sarasota County -- factoring out a rate boost last May -- they climbed to $5.2 million, a gain of 16 percent.

Those of you who tried to find a room in recent months for out- of-town visitors or who attempted a little beach getaway of your own during high season already know how packed accommodations were.

The numbers bore that out, particularly for March, which was a golden month.

Sarasota County reported a best-ever 94.7 percent occupancy rate, up from 91.6 percent last year. Manatee's March occupancy was 90.6 percent, considerably better than last year's 85.9 percent occupancy.

It will be interesting to see how long the afterglow from our No. 1 beach recognition lasts with the retirement of Siesta Beach from the list.

If you saw the reporting recently by the Herald-Tribune's Tom Becnel on the topic, you know it has considerable staying power.

No, it likely won't be generating calls a decade from now. But there is fairly strong evidence that it is a gift that keeps on giving for years after the actual event -- like all good marriages.

The other part of the regional engine that seems to be firing like almost no other place in the nation is the existing-home market.

As one of our local Realtors told reporter Michael Braga recently: Fear drives everything in real estate. …

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