Beacon Council changing the way it judges economy
By Sherri C. Ranta
A new set of economic indicators reflecting the fluctuating nature of Miami-Dade County's economy, driven by small business and international influences, will be created this year by the Beacon Council's Economic Roundtable.
"We have faulty statistical radar. Investors look at us, they get concerned. They sense things are static and declining. There is no data to show the dynamism that is this economy," said J. Antonio Villamil, roundtable chairman and CEO of Washington Economics Group, a Coral Gables consulting firm.
Traditional statistical systems measure factors such as payroll-based employment growth, personal income and unemployment, he said. Those measurements work in a closed economy but don't reflect what is happening in Greater Miami.
"We need to look at things like airport arrivals," Mr. Villamil said, "taxable sales, business permits and licenses issued by municipalities and tracked over time rather than relying on national or state data that don't reflect Miami-Dade."
Frank Nero, president and CEO of the Beacon Council, the county's economic development agency, agreed.
Workforce Florida, a state group that monitors economic development, employment issues and business, last year revised the way it measures activity, he said, and the change negatively impacts Miami-Dade results.
"We just don't think the numbers are right," Mr. Nero said.
Before the Workforce Florida measurements were changed, Miami-Dade ranked near the top of the state in the rate of job creation. Since then, the county has ranked near the bottom.
"Our economy didn't stop operating overnight," Mr. Nero said. "The only change was in the methodology the state was using."
Mr. Nero said he and Mr. Villamil are coming to the same conclusion though separately. "We just kept looking at the numbers, and it wasn't adding up with what we were seeing through our own analysis."
Mr. Villamil said members of the Economic Roundtable will discuss the project in March. They hope to have a new set of economic indicators available for use by the end of the year.
As chairman of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors, Mr. Villamil's recommendations for change are likely to carry considerable weight. He also served from 1989 to 1993 as US undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs.
Mr. Villamil compares Miami-Dade's economy to that of Hong Kong.
Miami, he said, is an open economy alive with self-employment and business startups and a place where the labor force, dealmakers and travelers come from all over the world.
European tourists, he said, are coming back to Miami to buy real estate since the euro has made strong gains against the dollar. Latin Americans come for vacation, shopping, real estate and health care.
People also come to Miami to do business in Latin America and elsewhere, he said, rather than just for local or state deals.
"When you look at Miami-Dade, you see a lot of economic activity. But when you look at the statistics, everything seems to be flat," he said. "Our statistical systems don't capture all that."