End of Population Growth Era in Florida

"The overarching economic policy of growth management was approved when Florida was bursting at the seams," Gaetz says. "Economic policy ought to be tied to economic reality."

The state also is pushing for:

Improved education. The Quality Counts report by Education Week, a national journal published by a non-profit group, ranked Florida in six key areas of K-12 education. It was 31st in 2006, 14th in 2007 and 10th this year. Its overall grade jumped from C+ to B—.

The state two years ago began requiring school districts to create at least one career academy that focuses on one field such as health sciences.

"It's a career pathway," says Loretta Costin, vice chancellor for Career and Adult Education. "It helps high school students become actively engaged."

At the WorkForce One center here, one of 24 regional operations run by the state and private interests, some of the jobless who come for help are taught how to draft résumés and apply for work online. Others are enrolled in local schools to retrain for jobs of the future: technology, health care, engineering and all things "green."

Angelo de Santis, 25, has an associate degree in business administration from Miami Dade College. That worked well until he was laid off in February as an information technology analyst.

Through WorkForce One, he will take computer classes to earn an advanced certification. "It's going to take a while for the economy and the country to recover," de Santis says. "At the same time, the mentality of people in this state is going to have to shift. Technology is one of those areas that we will always need."

Alternative energy. Eric Silagy, vice president of Florida Power & Light, the state's largest energy supplier, says, "We're building three solar plants right now. It will take Florida from not even being on the solar map to being the second-largest producer in the nation (after California)." By the end of next year, the plants will produce 110 megawatts of electricity, enough for 35,000 homes and businesses.

High tech, medical and bioscience. A "high-tech corridor" stretching along Interstate 4 from Tampa to Orlando is anchored by the University of Central Florida in Orlando and the University of South Florida in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The area also is home to cancer research centers, bio-medical engineering companies and oceanographic centers. Among them: California-based Burnham Institute for Medical Research, which chose Orlando for its East Coast expansion; SRI International set up a facility in St. Petersburg that will research environmental health and security.

On the Atlantic coast, the Scripps Research Institute and Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies — both based in San Diego — set up shop in Jupiter and Port St. Lucie, respectively.

A housing rebound?

Finding an upside to the real estate market is difficult when "For Sale" signs sprout in every third or fourth front yard on some streets of upscale neighborhoods here. Like many other states, however, Florida is seeing some heartening signs after the housing market collapsed.

From a peak in 2006 of $248,300, the median price of existing, single-family homes — where half cost more and half less — has fallen 41% to $147,600 in July. That has triggered a surge in home buying.

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