For years, folks have flocked to Florida to have fun in the sun--and then never left. Many of these transplants are affluent retirees and ex-military personnel who find themselves starting second careers and businesses, adding to the vibrancy of the Sunshine State's economy. They've also helped put five Florida cities on Entrepreneur's list of the top regions for small business. What distinguishes Florida's cities from the rest of the cities on the list is that megacorporations and the resulting outsourcing activities have not been the primary reason for growth. Florida's economy is built on small business--98 percent of companies there have less than 100 employees.
Many of these firms are involved in tourism, which has long been and remains the state's number-one industry. International trade is also strong because of Florida's coastal location, diverse population, and sophisticated air and port operations. Interest in aerospace in this capital of space aviation is bound to grow, thanks to newly enacted tax incentives and sales exemptions for aviation supply companies.
While tourism, trade and aerospace are strong statewide, the small-business-friendly cities on our list have additional strengths. Fort Lauderdale has seen many business and professional services join the yachting and high-tech companies already in place. In Pensacola and Jacksonville, military retirees are translating their expertise into civilian consulting firms for small manufacturers.
The Tampa/St. Petersburg/Clearwater MSA is nurturing information technology, particularly in the microelectronics, silicone-based technology, bio-medical and software development fields. And Orlando has benefited from huge capital investments by Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and other theme parks.
While the living is easy in Florida and business is growing, capital may not be as free flowing. Before this year, there were few government-sponsored programs, not much venture capital, and not one major bank based in the state. But the 1997-98 legislative session yielded the Florida Small Business Technology Growth Fund and the Certified Capital Company Act, the latter designed to stimulate venture capital investment in small emerging firms by offering incentives to investors. These programs were pushed hard by Enterprise Florida, the public-private partnership that replaced the state's Department of Commerce in 1996, and the organization Floridians expect to maintain their thriving economy.