Villamil: County jobs picture prettier than federal numbers paint
By Sherri C. Ranta
Entrepreneurs are leading job creation in Miami-Dade County while payroll growth remains flat, US Bureau of Labor Statistics show.
Household surveys reflecting the self-employed, partnerships and proprietorships show the number of jobs increased 2.6%, about 26,300, since last summer, according to J. Antonio Villamil, CEO of Washington Economics Group, a Coral Gables consulting firm.
"Payroll employment grew less than 1% last year," he said, "but household surveys, numbers that capture the self-employed and proprietorships, show an increase of 2.6%, a significant increase relative to the same state figures."
The federal figures reflect growth from June 2003 to June 2004.
"Nothing is going on in this town," if one just looks at the payroll numbers, said Mr. Villamil, leader of the Governor's Council of Economic Advisors and former US under secretary of Commerce. Conventional statistics, he said, don't reflect Miami-Dade County's booming economy.
A community booming with residential and commercial development in its urban core, Greater Miami is more of a Hong Kong-type economy, Mr. Villamil said, an open one with people and their business constantly coming and going.
Much of that activity, Mr. Villamil said, cannot be measured in traditional ways. The state measures job growth with payroll employment figures because that best measures established economies. Miami's payroll survey found just 3,000 jobs created since June 2003.
Unemployment figures often paint a deceptive picture, he said. Miami's rate of 7.19%, down from 7.8%, is much higher than the state average of 4.6%. Once again, Mr. Villamil said, the figures do not include the entrepreneurial nature of Greater Miami and the constant flow of people and business activities.
"The rest of the state thinks we're sinking in the ocean, and we're not," he said.
Included in the county's 2.3 million residents is a large immigrant population from Latin and Central America and the Caribbean, a group that moved here for economic opportunity, he said.
With language as little or no barrier in most cases and a large number of foreign banks accustomed to dealing with internationals, the area, Mr. Villamil said, is uniquely equipped to encourage and facilitate entrepreneurs.
Growth of small business in Miami-Dade and South Florida, Mr. Villamil said, will be influenced by Scripps Research Institute's move to Palm Beach County and a possible headquarters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami.
Both events will act as "detonators" for the growth of small business here, Mr. Villamil said. "We call them big detonators. Detonators have significant radius - it will impact the entire state."
Scripps, a biotech research firm, is stimulating an explosion of interest from small biotech and life sciences companies around its future campus in Palm Beach, he said. The state's agreement with the company - which includes $300 million investment for facilities - is favorable to small business.
"No one looks at the agreements, but they are very beneficial to the area, relative to entrepreneurship," Mr. Villamil said.
Development in the area near the planned park is already under way, according to published reports. In May, Lennar Corp and Centex Homes, two of Florida's largest homebuilders, won the right to develop the eastern portion of the biotech park, about 1,700 acres, after agreeing to pay $102 million - about twice the site's sales price. Developers expect to build about 7,500 homes and 2.5 million square feet of research and commercial space.
Ratification of the FTAA treaty and other already implemented agreements, such as the US Chile Free Trade Agreement and Central American Free Trade Agreement, will impact the area, said Mr. Villamil, vice chairman of FTAA Inc., a non-profit advocating Miami's bid for the pact's headquarters.
"Free trade agreements," he said, "create market openings. It will mean more trade. Investments go up. Entrepreneurs can supply needed services. It's a boom to entrepreneurship."
While there are positives in Miami's economy, entrepreneurs must also acknowledge and deal with the negatives that include increasing costs, lack of a highly skilled work force and a small number of mid- to large-sized companies.
The Beacon Council, the county's economic development agency, needs to recruit more established companies to the area. Those companies, said Mr. Villamil, a member of group's executive board, tend to go out for bid for supplies and services small entrepreneurs can provide.
"Right now we have a small, large-corporate base in Miami-Dade. We have a lot of multinational companies, but their headquarters are not here."
Mr. Villamil, with multiple economic degrees from Louisiana State University, finds he works for many out-of-town clients. The majority of companies needing his expertise, he said, are not based here.
As a business owner, Mr. Villamil, like other entrepreneurs, deals with increasing costs. "The cost of doing business here is increasing rapidly," he said. "I've seen [health insurance] premiums increase of 15% to 18% in the past two years."
Another problem, he said, is the lack of specifically trained people. There is a need for well-trained economists, but they are hard to find.
"The bottom line is how do we train the unskilled labor force into higher value-added occupations," he said. "so they can continue growing entrepreneurial companies that will eventually become small, middle and large companies?"