Southwest Florida, which was ground zero after the housing bubble burst, is recovering nicely, as is the rest of the state.
That's what Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater told a packed house of Lee County dignitaries and business people at the Community Leaders Luncheon at Suncoast Beverage Sales in Fort Myers on Thursday.
Among the items Atwater discussed was this year's legislative session, the continued recovery of the state from the Great Recession and addressed questions from the audience.
"Taking the time out to learn what's going on from the CFO means so much from your constituents," Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-19), who hosted the luncheon, said. "He knows a lot and has a great perspective on where Florida is going and how to get there."
Atwater painted a picture of a state that, while it's far from what it was in 2006, is sure a whole lot better than it was in 2008-09.
He also praised the elected delegation that had "few levers to pull" and did extraordinary work to pull off a tight budget.
"Your constituents should be proud of you. You had tight numbers to work with and did it well," Atwater said. "It was the finest managed session since I was elected in 2000, including the two years I managed the Senate," he continued, praising Benacquisto.
Regarding the cancer parity bill, Atwater said it was strictly about life and "about how we can provide therapeutic support through oral medications that have been provided from IVs.
"Institutions were holding back on finding financial parity to offer that in the marketplace and had beaten it down," Atwater said. "Nobody would have bet on this legislation passing. The persistent stampede of those who could have a change of life was brought down on the legislature."
On the state economy, Atwater pulled out his stat book, saying that from 2006 to 2009, state revenues went from $28 billion to $21 billion, the price of a home went from $258,000 to $119,000, and that unemployment went from 3.5 percent to 11.5 percent.
"The engine hit the wall and all that construction and financial arrangements suffered," Atwater said. "We had some tough decisions to make. How do you close the gap from $28 billion to $21 billion?"
Atwater said they cut the budget by $6 billion, cut the corporate tax to nothing for businesses with less than 50 employees, and cut the debt.
Today, the average price of a home sold is $165,000 with only a five-month inventory as opposed to 20, the population growth was 1.2 percent, or about 200,000, as opposed to zero, with a slightly older population, unemployment is at 7 percent, and revenues will be $25 billion when the books close.
"We have a broader sense of recovery and confidence and not unique to the real estate industry itself," Atwater said. "As we all encourage the real estate market to come back, it is broader."
Atwater gave an indication of how Florida is growing by saying it is poised to become the third most populous state in the nation and comparing its $780 billion GDP as on par with many nations.
"If we were a country unto ourselves, we would be 19th on the planet between Israel and Portugal," Atwater said. "We are force to be reckoned with. And $550 billion of that is generated by companies with less than 50 employees. It's an impressive engine."
During the Q&A, people expressed concern about home insurance, specifically Citizens, the fate of community banks and their inability to lend money, and predictability at the national and state levels.
Atwater's presentation made many happy with the direction the state is going.
"We should be encouraged by what's happening in the state of Florida. That the housing market coming back is good news as is the growing population," Cape Coral Councilmember Rana Erbrick said. "It shows in our initial increase of 5.67 percent in taxable value."
State Rep. Dane Eagle (R-77) was thrilled Atwater came to speak.
"It was great to hear it from the horse's mouth and of how things are in Tallahassee. I'm pleased he made the trip," Eagle said. "It's been a tough few years and it's great things are coming back. Let's hope it continues."