News

State sales figures rising but Brevard continues to lag

BY EVAN WILLIAMS

A steady increase in business across dozens of industries in Florida, from cars and boats to flowers and museum ticket sales, has pushed gross sales figures up to pre-recession levels — although other factors such as unemployment and a lack of consumer confidence is still making the overall recovery seem weak.

Business sales statewide jumped 9 percent in July, the latest data from The Department of Revenue shows, to $70.4 billion. That was a record not seen since July 2008’s 68.6 billion.

However, in Brevard County, the growth continued to lag behind the state as a whole, showing a decrease of roughly 2 percent from July 2011 to July 2012.

Building and home improvement businesses showed some of the greatest spikes in July, shown in the Department of Revenue’s preliminary August report of gross sales across all Florida businesses. However, some gains look large compared to depressed levels, noted Dr. Gary Jackson, Ph.D. economics and director of the Regional Economic Research Institute.

“It’s all relative to where you were,” he said. “But it’s a positive sign.”

Other factors such as still too high unemployment figures and relatively low — although increasing — consumer confidence, Dr. Jackson said, may cast a pall over the bright sales figures.

“If you look at employment levels, it’s still not back,” to the 5 or 6 percent figures that signal a full recovery, Dr. Jackson said. He also pointed out, the housing market in Florida is “getting better but still under stress… I look at the sales data as one part of a bigger picture. And that part has actually been very bright.”

Some sales increases when shown in percentages during one month for individual counties may look wildly inflated for any number of reasons, including one company making a large sale. But overall, the gains in the construction industry are in line with an increase in building permits, Dr. Jackson said.

In Brevard County, building contractors were up 1,269 percent. Statewide, that number was 26 percent.

“By and large, I think that one month is skewed a little bit,” said Dave Armstrong of Armstrong Custom Homes, Inc. and president of Home Builders & Contractors Association of Brevard. “I’d say it’s more like 4.5 to 5 percent.”

Some industries, however, lost ground in July. Secondhand stores and antique shops were off, as were barber and beauty shops. Veterinary services were off 4 percent in Brevard.

Interior designers and home improvement businesses saw a spike in sales in the first half of the year. Decorating, painting, papering and drapery installation was up 61 percent in Brevard in July.

That’s because more people are fixing up their homes instead of selling at depressed market prices, many interior designers said.

Food and beverage sales, as well as restaurants, lunchrooms and catering sales also climbed between 6 and 15 percent.

Boat dealers also generally fared well, up 182 percent in Brevard.

“That number just seems astronomical,” said Stan Heywood, manager of Top Notch Marine in Melbourne, of July’s 182 percent increase in boat dealers’ sales. But he added, “They’re probably close to correct in my pontoon (boat) sales… Yes, I believe we’re back to the output as a company that we were at prior to the recession. And I can’t tell you how wonderful that is to see and feel. It finally feels like it’s over.”

The financial sector also improved. Banking services and insurance companies were up 34 percent in Brevard.

Communications sales, including telephone, radio and television stations, were up more than 40 percent in July in Brevard but sales at shoe stores were up 7 percent in Brevard.

“Usually when you look at things like durables — automobiles, washing machines, appliances — those are the things that people can put off,” Dr. Jackson said. “And when you start seeing those, usually the confidence in the economy is a little better. I think we are seeing some decent sales now. People are feeling a little bit better about the overall economy.” ¦


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2012-10-18 digital edition


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