Jerry Parrish, Florida Chamber Foundation economist addresses COVID-19 impact on state

Jim Thompson
Northwest Florida Daily News

MIRAMAR BEACH — Florida is on its way to recovering from the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will be the third quarter of next year before all of the state's industries have fully bounced back, according to the chief economist for the Florida Chamber Foundation.

"We lost a lot of jobs," Jerry Parrish, who also serves as director of research for the foundation associated with the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said Tuesday at the annual Gulf Power Economic Symposium at Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.

Those jobs are coming back at an encouraging pace across much of the state's economy, Parrish said, even as he noted that the accommodations and amusement park industries, backbones of Florida's economy, have seen significant declines as a result of the pandemic.

From December 2019 to December 2020, Parrish said jobs in the accommodations industry dropped by almost 37% while amusement park jobs were down 40%.

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One bit of good news, particularly for those two industries, Parrish said, is that as the United States and the rest of the world begin to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic in the coming months, Florida's status as a vacation mecca will return.

Parrish told his audience of business, civic and political leaders, many of whom attended the conference remotely via digital channels, that there is "tons and tons of pent-up demand for travel ... ."

Jerry Parrish, chief economist for the Florida Chamber Foundation, painted a relatively optimistic picture of the state's pending emergence from the coronavirus pandemic during Tuesday's Gulf Power Economic Symposium.

But Northwest Florida hasn't necessarily been hit as hard as other parts of the state that depend significantly on tourist-related jobs, Parrish added.

"In a lot of cases," Parrish said of the region, "it's drive-in traffic" as opposed to elsewhere in the state, where visitors routinely fly to their destination, which has been problematic in the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Certainly, it matters where we are in this state as far as job effects" in the tourism industry, he said.

In other comments on the impact of the coronavirus on the state's economy, Parrish said that the pre-COVID pace of economic development in Florida — where one of every 11 jobs created in the United States between 2015 and 2019 was located — created a momentum that has been sustained through the pandemic and continues today.

"That momentum is actually what's carrying us forward," Parrish said, reminding his audience that the state boasts a $1.1 trillion economy.

Also helping the state is its longstanding reputation as a good place to do business.

"People understand that Florida is a business-friendly place," he said.

On a related note, Parrish told his audience that 900 new people come into Florida every day.

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However, he expressed some concern about the state's decline in labor force participation. From December 2019 to December of last year (the latest statistics available), the labor force declined by 276,000 people.

"We don't know who those people are at this point," Parrish said, although he added that many of them likely were women who had to leave their jobs when their children remained at home rather than going to school during the pandemic.

"They were trained in something," Parrish said. "They were working in something."

But he added that as the pandemic and its associated restrictions and public health protocols are eased, those people "are very likely to come back to work."

At the same time he made that projection, Parrish noted that there currently are 300,000 open jobs in the state, "a lot more open jobs than there have been" in recent history.

If there is any silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic in Florida, it's that people, including people from outside the state, have discovered that they can work from virtually anywhere.  

That capability for remote working, Parrish said, could be particularly good news for rural Florida, which traditionally has lagged behind the rest of the state in terms of economic development.

"There's quite a few people who think, 'Hey, wouldn't it be great to have a couple of acres out in the country?' " Parrish said. "I really believe this is going to be good for rural Florida."

Balancing his relatively optimistic view of Florida's path forward, he said he is concerned about the state's move to a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Currently at $8.65 per hour, the minimum wage is set to rise to $10 in September and to increase by $1 each year thereafter until reaching $15. The increase was approved by Florida voters in November as a amendment to the state constitution.

That could be particularly problematic for economic development in the northern part of the state because businesses in neighboring states won't have to pay wages at that level, Parrish said.

And in Florida, the move toward a $15 minimum wage likely will lead to more jobs being done by machines rather than people.

"There's going to be more automation, I can guarantee you that," he said.

Perhaps more seriously, though, is that a $15 per hour minimum wage will serve as a disincentive for young people to invest in education to improve their job prospects, Parrish added. 

"If you're a high school kid, are you going to invest in yourself when you think you can get that $15 minimum wage?"

The higher minimum wage will mean that the state "will end up being less educated" and "less globally competitive," Parrish said.