Harper: 'Blues' Boost Tourism, Local Foreclosures Drop

Jul 18, 2014

In this week’s Economic Report, Dr. Rick Harper reflects on Blue Angels weekend on Pensacola Beach. ‘Red, White and Blues Week’ follows the Fourth of July holiday weekend, which provides a critical boost to the local tourism industry over a stretch of about a week-and-a-half.

Credit University of West Florida

For the Blue Angels, a record crowd was reported. More than 81,000 vehicles poured onto Pensacola Beach from last Wednesday through Saturday; that number based on traffic counts on the Bob Sikes Bridge and traffic from Navarre Beach. On Saturday alone, the estimate is over 100,000 people watching the air show. That includes people staying in hotels and condos on the beach and who came out by boat.

“If you look at the photographs of the beach, it’s just wall to wall people. It was astonishing to look at those photographs, how many thousands of people who were at the beach, and compare that to just four short years ago,” says Harper, referencing the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico that left local beaches virtually deserted.

Harper says it’s great to see visitation come back strong, with occupancy rates and tourist spending at high levels over the weekend.

There’s more good news on the housing front, with a new report showing real estate foreclosures showing a significant decline. Despite some disappointing housing start numbers at the federal level, Harper says “Our real estate market continues to show signs of strengthening.”

The number of homes entering the foreclosure process in Escambia was down 36 percent in June from the same period last year. In Santa Rosa, the number of homes entering foreclosure was down 27% and Okaloosa was down 43%. In Walton’s foreclosure rate dropped 23%, while Bay recorded a decline of 41%.

Harper says the housing market will benefit even more once the job market completely rebounds, resulting in an increased demand for homes and an increase in home prices.

On the employment front, data shows that the four-week average in initial jobless claims dropped down to 309,000. Harper says there are signs that the national unemployment rate may dip below 6% by early autumn. However, he cautions that the number of jobs created has not yet reached a sufficient level to account for population growth.

Finally, a new report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisors shows a drop in the number of adult Americans (at least 16 years of age) participating in the labor force, down to 63% from 66%.

Harper cites the Bureau of Labor Statistics JOLTS survey (Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey), which shows one problem is that people are not leaving the jobs at the same rate as they did before the recession. “Instead, we’re seeing people who are still reluctant to leave their old job because the future is uncertain and the job market is tough,” he says, noting a positive trend of increased hiring on a sustained basis.

Dr. Rick Harper is director of the University of West Florida Office of Economic Development and Engagement; rharper@uwf.edu.