BRANDON — In 2006, Florida was thriving. Housing prices were up, state tax receipts were plump and unemployment was fairly low, said Jeff Atwater, the state’s current chief financial officer.
Two years later, sales prices of houses had plummeted from an average of $215,000 to $119,000, tax receipts were down by $6 billion and unemployment had soared to nearly 11 percent.
Improving numbers today are the result of small businesses using their money wisely to help bolster the economy, Atwater told Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce members on Wednesday. State government set its sights on keeping as much money as possible in the hands of small businesses, while Florida weathered the recession. And it worked, he said.
“We believed if we kept the money in the hands of the marketplace ... the market would find its footing again,” Atwater said. Today, he said, the average price of a house is back up to $170,000, state tax revenue has increased to $25.3 billion from a low of $21 billion, and unemployment is down to 7 percent.
Atwater said the state still is working to diversify its economy so history won’t repeat itself. “Construction doesn’t work when people are not coming,” he said, and thousands fewer newcomers are arriving each year. The process will be slow, he said, but the goal is to bring “more intellectual capital in life sciences” to the state.
The Brandon gathering was the first in a series the chamber plans to bring states cabinet members to speak to local small business owners.