Leading Question

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2008

Many in the Southwest Florida business community are hanging their hats on a “first in, first out” theory of recession recovery. The theory is that since Florida was one of the first states in the nation to enter the economic downturn—the Wall Street Journal and other publications described Sarasota as “ground zero” for the housing bubble’s burst—it is poised to recover from the financial crisis first.

Unfortunately for Southwest Florida, says University of Florida economics professor David Denslow, that theory is unlikely to pan out. Denslow thinks not only will Florida not be first out of this crisis, there is a possibility that it could be dead last.

In some situations, the first-in, first-out theory has some relevance. “Recessions used to be more V-shaped, he says. “If you went down fast, you sprung back fast. But now we are seeing an L-shape. You go down, stay down, and then climb back slowly.”

This is a deep recession, he says, far from the kind of downturn that is over quickly. “Usually the places that experience a downturn most severely come out of it last,” he says. Florida’s recession began in earnest in May 2007, according to Denslow. The nation’s, on the other hand, started a year later and has now spread internationally. So Florida is basically experiencing a recession on top of a recession.

Places like Southwest Florida, where economic health is dependent upon a robust residential real estate market, will be some of the last to recover, Denslow predicts. Because housing values up north have plummeted, people in places like New England and the Midwest are reluctant or unable to sell their homes. Florida will continue to lag behind in the recovery because northerners can’t afford to relocate to the SunshineState. The state’s turnaround will come on the heels of a rise in northern property values, and not before, says Denslow

So when will we recover? Denslow says it all depends on the nation’s recovery. And then, he says, Florida will lag three months behind that.

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