Gov. Bush's team seeks to bulletproof Florida's war economy
By Frank Norton
Top state economic advisers will meet with the governor's office Monday to present ideas for heading off the financial fallout that could result from a war with Iraq.
Some experts say countermeasures include accelerating public infrastructure spending, possibly financing a tourism campaign targeting the drive market and advancing government contract work
"There are a lot of transportation development projects that we could accelerate," said J. Antonio Villamil, who will be attending the meeting. "It's a short term way to put spending on the street."
As chair of Gov. Jeb Bush's Council of Economic Advisors, Dr. Villamil is collecting input from colleagues in preparation for the trip.
He will recommend accelerating prioritized mass transit projects to inject money into the economy. Dr. Villamil, who heads the Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables, also said he supports advancing small business contracts to further transfer money from the public to private sector.
"We're seeing a hostile external economic environment that could hurt us. So we need to be creative and look at this from the business point of view as well as the state policy point of view," he said.
That could mean promoting drive-market tourism to offset potential drops in air travel, he said, noting 96% of Miami-Dade County's visitors arrive by plane.
He estimated gasoline prices are up nationally about 40% from six months ago. Some airlines have already begun passing rising costs on to passengers.
The governor's Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development is calling on key experts from the governor's Council of Economic Advisors, Enterprise Florida and others to analyze the impacts war and solutions for mitigating further economic damage. The special sessions are part of this year's economic summit, scheduled for Monday in Tallahassee.
According to a December report by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, MA, cost estimates to the US from a war range from $100 billion to $1.9 trillion.
By population Florida is the nation's fourth-largest economy and by gross domestic product fifth largest.
"We see a lot of hesitancy to spend on the part of businesses and consumers and tourists," said Pamella Dana, director of the Office of Tourism Trade and Economic Development.
Asked if state planners would look to a tourism campaign for a bail-out, she said: "Emergency moneys are a clear option that we are looking into but it's not on the table yet."
She said state economic leaders had a teleconference on the effects of war and "came away with marching orders."
That could mean earmarking emergency money, she said.
Broadly speaking, Dr. Villamil said, state officials are shifting attention from attracting businesses to retaining and expanding existing ones. And officials at Enterprise Florida, the state's marketing agency, also said they are preparing an action plan to retain companies. A spokesperson said opportunities to capitalize on Florida's $30 billion defense-contracting sector are also being explored.