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Florida's job engine chugging along

More than a dozen Florida cities scored high marks in Inc. magazine's annual Boomtown ranking of the hottest cities for entrepreneurs. The list, which is based on job creation, shows Florida remains a productive job generator.

By James Thorner
Published May 4, 2007


Florida workers are mostly underpaid theme park mascots, cyclical construction workers and cash register jockeys, right? Wrong.

Inc. magazine's annual boomtown list suggests Florida employment has transcended Walt Disney and Wal-Mart.

In its May issue, the magazine for entrepreneurs published its annual job growth rankings, and guess what? Florida dominates the top of the list.

"As always, our rankings put the focus on job growth, which we believe is the best measure of economic vitality, " Inc.'s Joel Kotkin said in the annual survey. "Strong job growth suggests that an economy is expanding - which means plenty of opportunity."

Inc. divided the boomtowns into three groups covering large, medium and small cities. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater's 11.8 percent job growth from 2001 to 2006 placed it 11th in the large-city category and 71st overall out of 393 metropolitan areas.

We weren't quite as proficient a jobs producer as Fort Lauderdale, Orlando-Kissimmee and West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, but we beat No. 12 Jacksonville by a nose.

Florida practically owned the mid-sized cities category. Four of the top six jobs leaders were here, from No. 1 Cape Coral-Fort Myers to No. 6 Lakeland.

Naples-Marco Island aced the small-cities rankings, coming in fourth. Port St. Lucie-Fort Pierce wasn't too far behind.

What accounts for the Florida's entrepreneurial status? After all, the state is known for its shortage of corporate headquarters and large-scale manufacturing. Startup money in the form of venture capital usually passes the state by.

Those deficiencies don't sting like they used to: Small businesses, including work-from-home startups, account for about three-quarters of all new jobs.

Call it the Starbucks Effect. Economist Mark Vitner, an expert on the Florida economy though he's based in Charlotte, N.C., working for Wachovia, cites the increasing number of his clients who ask to meet at a neighborhood coffeehouse.

They don't have traditional offices and their corporate addresses are usually their home addresses. In the Tampa Bay area they're often salespeople, consultants, Realtors and mortgage brokers.

Places like Fort Myers and Naples attract plenty of baby boomers in their 50s who retired early, sought out Florida sunshine and launched businesses from home.

They include hedge fund managers and private-equity fund managers who tired of living up North but still go there for business.

"Florida has plenty of cities with good airport connections, " Vitner said. "You can get everywhere you want from Fort Myers and Naples."

The housing slump and sluggish national growth could slow the Florida jobs engine in the next year. But everything's relative. Florida may slow down. But so will most of the rest of the country.

Top 10 hottest cities for job growth, overall

1. St. George, Utah

2. Yuma, Ariz.

3. Prescott, Ariz.

4. Fort Myers

5. McAllen, Texas

6. Naples

7. Las Vegas

8. Sarasota

9. Morgantown, W.Va.

10. Bend, Ore.

Source: Inc. Magazine

[Last modified May 3, 2007, 23:14:30]

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