Jamie Miller: Florida needs to attract more retirees to help the economy thrive

A new AARP poll shows what nearly everyone who lives in Florida has known for some time.

There are three basic economic engines in Florida: tourism, agriculture and retirees. Sure, under the umbrella of retirees you can include home building and health care, but if retirees don’t come, the jobs associated with those industries will go where the baby boomers decide to retire.

The interesting thing from AARP’s press release is that Florida seems to ignore this segment of the population with its “Visit Florida” campaign. Visit Florida is a non-profit corporation that gets its money from both public and private sources.

After perusing its website www.visitflorida.com (which sorely needs an upgrade), there really isn’t a “Stay in Florida” or “Retire in Florida” portion. Tennessee has a whole department called “Retire in Tennessee” as does North Carolina.

People older than 50 make up about 38 percent of Florida’s population but provide 67 percent of state and local taxes, and 58 percent of total spending.

From the Visit Florida web site: “As the state’s number one industry, tourism was responsible for welcoming 94.3 million visitors in 2013 who spent $76.1 billion, generating 23 percent of the state’s sales tax revenue and employing nearly 1.1 million Floridians. For every $1 spent on tourism marketing, VISIT FLORIDA generates more than $390 in tourism spending and $23 in new sales tax collections, paid by visitors, not residents.”

As baby boomers bring their grandchildren to Florida for vacation, imagine the jobs that would be created if more decided to retire in Florida instead of Tennessee, North Carolina, Arizona, or overseas.

While I applaud efforts to diversify Florida’s economy, workers aren’t truly going to get out of the recession unless we capture a large percentage of baby boomers who are going to retire during the next 10 years. The competition for retirement dollars is fierce.

I even applaud some of the efforts that have been tried and failed to diversify Florida’s economy, like green energy. We now know that these efforts have failed largely because they are the Ponzi scheme of Charlie Crist and President Barack Obama to enrich liberal elites like Al Gore on the backs of middle class taxpayers.

I certainly applaud Gov. Rick Scott’s efforts to bring Amazon, Hertz, and other businesses to Florida, but these jobs are a drop in the bucket compared to the employment tourism, agriculture and retirees can generate.

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Maybe Visit Florida can take a page out of the film industry’s playbook. It seems that when people come to Florida, they stay. So, I applaud the efforts of legislators to expand the film industry in Florida.

 This could be Florida pride talking, but it is unthinkable that a major production about our beautiful Ybor City in Tampa is being filmed in Savannah, Ga because we don’t have the foresight to understand that every Florida sunset shown on TV, film and commercials is an advertisement for our state. How many visitors or permanent residents did “Miami Vice” bring to Florida or “Running Scared” lure to Key West?

You don’t think spring training matters? Tell that to Pinellas County where the Phillies train and Ryan Howard decided to build his home and will likely pay up to $300,000 per year in property taxes alone.

In Palm Beach County, it is a very similar story with Celine Dion. She pays almost $300,000 per year on her nearly $20 million compound. When people experience Florida first-hand, we have the opportunity to keep them here long-term.

I encourage Scott in his second term to begin an effort, possibly as a part of Visit Florida, to urge older people to visit and live in Florida. We need to create an economic atmosphere where visiting Florida turns into making it your permanent home.

While the long-term success of Florida is going to be based on diversification, we must capture the baby boomer retirees to help Florida thrive in the near future.

Jamie Miller is a Sarasota-based political consultant who has been involved with six statewide campaigns as campaign manager, senior advisor or general consultant. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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