Miami-Dade's economic vital signs inching back to health
By Jaime Levy
Greater Miami's economic indicators are slowly but steadily improving since late September and October, according to the latest compilation of statistics by the Beacon Council.
Although the numbers - which include hotel occupancy, airline passengers, cruise business, initial unemployment claims and air and sea cargo tonnage - are not as positive as figures for the same period in 2000, they are ticking up from sharp declines immediately after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
One of the most negative aftereffects of the attacks and recession in Miami-Dade County has been lagging tourism, but hospitality-related industries are showing improvement. Hotel occupancy, for example, dropped to 35% the third week of September, the Beacon Council's numbers show. Since then however, occupancy figures have been creeping uphill by a few percentage points each week, with one large jump between the fourth week of September and the first week of October and one drop, from 50% in October's third week to 48% in the fourth. By the third week of November - the most recent statistics reported - average occupancy was up to 60%.
The Beacon Council's cruise numbers, submitted by the Port of Miami, showed that although passenger numbers in September and October were down 13% and 8% respectively, the first week of November showed 4% more than what was reported last year.
Airline passengers at Miami International Airport are also increasing, according to the Beacon Council. Although the numbers were 60% lower than the same time last year at September's low point, they have inched back up. As of the fourth week of November, passenger numbers were off only 17% from the same period in 2000.
"Are people getting on planes and coming to Miami? The answer is 'yes,' and there seem to be a little more each week than the week before," said John Cordrey, vice president of research for the Beacon Council, Miami-Dade's economic development agency. "They're not normal, but it seems to be in the up direction."
Still, it's hard to assess the significance of the hotel occupancy, airline passenger and cruise passenger statistics without knowing how recent rates and fares compare to those of last year, said Dr. Cordrey. For hotels, he said, rates were cut to an average of $75 a night after Sept. 11 to attract business. Rates are back up to an average of $97 per night. He did not have comparable figures for cruise lines and airlines.
"There was a lot of price discounting, especially in the beginning," he said. "It matters in the long run because if, in fact, you're losing money on the number of people you're carrying, you can't lose money for a long period of time."
Also rebounding are numbers of initial unemployment claims in Miami-Dade County. In September, the number stood at 7,139 - up about 1,800 from September 2000. October saw the most dramatic number of layoffs, with 13,219 people filing initial unemployment claims, up almost 7,800 from October 2000.
But November saw a slight slowdown from the previous month when 7,560 people registered new claims. Still, the number of newly reported unemployed was significantly higher than in the previous year, when 5,113 registered initial claims in November.
For sea and air cargo, the most recent numbers Dr. Cordrey reports are from September. In tons, sea cargo was down 3% from September 2000 and air cargo down 16%.
Overall, said Jack Lowell, chairman of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce's Economic Generation & Recovery Task Force, the Beacon Council's numbers show what he expects to continue through the first half of 2002: a gradual increase in economic activity.
"I think we're going to see a continual improvement of numbers, but we will not see the same numbers for this winter in various aspects of economic activity," he said. "We're in a recession, but consumer confidence is returning, at least for our key business elements. But it'll be a while before we're fully recovered."