Economic forecast: ‘Bright 2016’ with focus on growth

From the Tallahassee Democrat

As 2015 comes to a close, more small businesses are encouraged to see Tallahassee’s economy strengthening and that will likely lead to more new hires, expansions and relocations. Owners may also decide to invest back into the business with major purchases.

Key economic factors point up. Business are seeing increased sales. There’s more population. Property evaluations are inching up. The local job market is showing promise, too, since fewer people are unemployed and less under-employed. In addition, new development and construction appears to be sprouting at nearly every corner.

Ben Pingree, executive vice president of the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County, said he believes 2016 is going to be “a very productive year for businesses and increased vitality city and countywide.”

“At the local level, a lot of the planning and infrastructure investments are starting to bear fruit. Look to Cascades Park and South City areas for future development, and Gaines Street and Midtown, out on West Tennessee Street and Magnolia Grove,” he said.

“These are all areas that were during the downtime targeted for revitalization and reinvestment when the money would open up. What we’re seeing is construction and the opening of businesses in these key areas.”

In the last three years, here’s how Tallahassee has changed:

  • Roughly 9,000 new jobs were added.
  • The unemployment rate dropped by 36 percent.
  • Parcel values have increased by 7 percent to over $23 billion in total value.

“We see a very a bright 2016 and frankly — and not insignificantly — this was planned for fairly well by our business community and by our local leadership and partners in the last five years,” Pingree said, adding updates to the Comprehensive Plan – the area’s blueprint on development standards – helped develop a plan for the future.

In recent years, local government, including the city, Leon County and the Community Redevelopment Agency, has put its focus on areas that could be centers of economic activity. Gaines Street, with its bustling boutiques, bars, eateries and eclectic and youth energy, no longer resembles its warehouse industrial roots. But before the boom, local governments made substantial investments in infrastructure and more pedestrian-centric designs.

The next big economic thing could be Welaunee in northeast Tallahassee, according to economic, commercial and government officials.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said the city and county are helping to facilitate the development of various lots that will result in a “huge economic boost for our community.”

“We’ve heard from our real estate community and our development community that they need plots for development and construction. This will be the largest inventory of land for new development that the city has seen in a very long time – not since Southwood,” Gillum said. “It will be big … There’s nothing that puts people to work quite like development.”

In addition during the new year, Gillum said his office will increase partnerships with the EDC and local universities in going after potential companies looking to relocate to Tallahassee, especially those attracted to research and the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory at Florida State University.

“We’ve worked together to ensure our community would survive the greatest economic downturn that our country has seen in a long time,” Gillum said. “Next year, we want to continue to keep our economy moving.”

As local government crafts its role to boost the economy, scores of small business owners are doing the same. Many, in fact, plan to hire more employees next year. During the annual breakfast hosted by the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce in October, more than 200 business CEOS and leaders attended and 85 percent indicated they believed their company’s sales would increase in the next six months.

Nearly half of them planned to increase investment in facilities or equipment in the next six months. And 42 percent said they were better off now compared to six months ago, and another 34 percent said they were much better off.

Businesses such as Moore Bass Consulting, which provides surveying and permitting services for developments, is intimately tied to the construction industry.

“Our business volumes are definitely on the increase,” said Rick Moore, principal at Moore Bass Consulting. He said his company is looking to increase its staff by 15 to 20 percent, or five to 10 new employees, specifically surveyors and engineers. “We are very optimistic, and we will be in recruitment and hiring mode in 2016.”

Marquis Software, a leading provider in offender management systems based in Tallahassee, also plans to hire four to five more employees. Ben Harrell, director of sales and marketing, said the company provides software solutions that represents the management of over 400,000 inmates, over 200,000 medical records, over 600,000 under community supervision and over 130,000 users at over 400 correctional facilities. It’s taken steps to move into the international market, with potential customers in Central and South America, Europe, and Asia.

“Marquis provides our products and services to the largest employer in Tallahassee, The State of Florida. A strong local economy makes it easier for us to hire and retain qualified staff,” Harrell said. “We are also fortunate that we have three universities to pick young smart IT professionals from. Many of these interns see the value of living in a family oriented town like Tallahassee. Over the years we have hired around ten of our interns and plan on bringing in at least two more in 2016.”