WINTER HAVEN – National economics, local growth and housing were the topics of Tuesday morning’s 14th annual East Polk Economic Summit at Chain of Lakes Complex.

National economics

Joe Keating, executive vice president, chief investment officer and head of wealth management for CenterState Bank, gave an outlook on the national picture. Keating has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Fox Business Network and The Associated Press among other media.

As far as growth in gross domestic product goes, Keating noted that since 1947, the annual rate has been about 3.2 percent. From 1947 to 1999, however, it was 3.5 percent, but since 2000, it’s been just 2 percent. Since 2009, it’s been 2.2 percent.

“During the first 50 years, we had fiscal policies that were pro-growth,” Keating said. “We had them under President (John F.) Kennedy; we had them under President (Ronald) Reagan; we had them under President (Bill) Clinton.”

Keating noted that there are other factors in the decrease in growth, including that baby boomers are retiring and spending less. He added that women entering the workforce early on during that time frame contributed to a higher number in those years.

“It’s uninspiring, but it is very durable,” Keating said of the recent growth. “As long as the Federal Reserve doesn’t tighten monetary policy, we’re not in any worry of a recession.”

Keating also addressed the potential Republican tax plan. Keating said he was not in favor of a massive, across-the-board cut that added to the current national debt of $20 trillion, but hopes the 35 percent corporate tax rate will be addressed.

“We have an uncompetitive corporate tax on a global basis,” he said. “It leads to (American) companies not keeping their businesses here and other companies being headquartered somewhere else. The best thing we see on the tax proposal is addressing the corporate side.”

Keating also addressed wages, which he said are currently increasing at a rate of 2.4 percent. That’s up from 1.1 percent in December 2014, but still low for an economy with an unemployment rate of less than 5 percent.

“Wages are not growing at a very fast pace,” he said. “Employers aren’t increasing wages right now, because they’re not sure they’ll be able to pass the costs on to their customers.”

Growth in Winter Haven

Merle Bishop, the city’s growth management director, talked about a growing city. Bishop, who has been with the city since August 2013, credited the city, businesses and the surrounding community working as one.

“I’ll share one of my favorite quotes from Harry Truman, and it’s that it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit,” he said. “I think that’s what is happening here in Winter Haven.”

Bishop said the city has seen a 4 percent increase in population since last year, bringing the total number of residents to more than 41,000. Since 2010, according to Bishop, the city has grown by 21.4 percent from less than 34,000. During that period, Lakeland has grown by 6.5 percent and the county as a whole by less than 10 percent.

“There are not many cities in the nation that have that type of growth,” Bishop said.

During the past four years, Winter Haven has averaged 3 percent growth annually, which Bishop said would take the city’s population to more than 60,000 in 20 years. Winter Haven, according to Bishop's data, is the 26th fastest growing city in Florida out of 410 and the second fastest in Polk County behind Davenport, which is the fifth fastest growing city in Florida. Auburndale, Lake Alfred, Haines City, Dundee, Bartow and Eagle Lake are all in the top 100.

“Without a doubt, Eastern Polk County is the fastest growing area in the county and one of the fastest in the state,” Bishop said.

Bishop added that the construction taking place in Winter Haven is also significant. From 2007 through 2016, the most permits for single- and multi-family homes given by the city was 481 in 2007. 2016 was the only other year with more than 400 with 433. So far this year, Bishop said the city has had 599 permits pulled.

“It’s an exciting time for this community,” said Katie Worthington, president and CEO of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the event. “The collaborative spirit of this community really is the secret sauce for Winter Haven.”

Homes

Kyle Winningham, with the appraisal service Winningham and Pospichal, gave an update on home values in the county. In Polk County in 2013, Winningham said, the median sale price was $128,400. Today, that price is $165,000.

The number of home sales since then has increased by 145 percent, according to Winningham’s provided numbers. In 2013, there were 4,384 homes sold in Polk County. In 2017, there have been just shy of 11,000.

As far as commercial real estate goes, Winningham said rates are up and vacancy is down. While real estate values are increasing across the board, Winningham said it was still affordable based on median household income.

Mike Ferguson can be reached at Mike.Ferguson@directgates.com or 863-401-6981. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.