Volume 53 l December 2019

Weekly eConnection
801 West Bay Drive, Suite 602 Largo, FL 33770
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Economic Development & Advocacy Edition
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Central Pinellas Chamber Upcoming Events
Check our home page for registrations, times and locations

1/23 - Focus on 2020: A Tampa Bay Economic Forecast - 7:30a - 9:30a   
2/5 - Coffee An' Networking at SPCA Tampa Bay - 7:30a - 9:30a   
2/20 - Chamber B2B Happy Hours at Slyce Pizza - 5:30p - 7:30p   
Happy New Year!

Chamber Holiday Hours
New Year’s Eve: Office closes 2 p.m.
New Year’s Day: Office closed
Florida is the No. 2 state for startups
Florida took the No. 2 spot in a recent report about the best states in the U.S. to launch a startup. The report examined which states offered a more positive environment to grow a business. It looked at several factors, including new business applications, business survival rate, rate of new entrepreneurs, corporate tax rate, share of college-educated population, labor cost and the cost of living index. More from the  Business Observer .
Hiring Surpasses Expectations 
Employers added 266,000 net new jobs in November, 79,000 more than economists surveyed by Dow Jones had projected. The main jobless rate ticked down 0.1% to 3.5%. The U-6 rate, counting both the unemployed and underemployed, also declined 0.1% to 6.9%. Wages grew 3.1% year-over-year, above the 3.0% Dow Jones estimate.
           These numbers do not indicate an economy cooling off. While they were influenced by the return of striking General Motors workers to their jobs, November hiring gains were spread across several categories.
Florida lawmakers ponder another slice to Business Rental Tax in 2020
        Florida is the only state in the country that directly imposes sales tax on commercial rental payments. Called the Business Rental Tax (BRT), it’s been a point of contention with chambers of commerce and other business associations through the years.
           State lawmakers have responded by reducing the tax from 6% in 2017 to 5.7% in 2020. They will apparently seek to reduce it again come the next Legislative Session. While no bills proposing to trim the BRT had been formally filed and numbered as of mid-December, the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (OEDR) factored in an anticipated half-percent cut in its final revenue estimating conference before the 2020 session begins Jan. 14. [Source:  The Center Square ]
A Rosy Real Estate Report
      The pace of home buying accelerated during October. According to the National Association of Realtors, existing home sales advanced 1.9% in October, partly reversing a 2.5% September setback. New home sales, however, retreated 0.7% for October by Census Bureau calculations; they were up 4.5% in September.
           Building permits were up 5.0% in the tenth month of 2019, housing starts 3.8%. The Census Bureau noted that single-family starts were up 3.2% across the 12 months ending in October, reaching a level unseen in 12 years.
           Freddie Mac said that the average interest rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate home loan was 3.68% on November 27. That compares to 3.78% on Halloween and nearly 5% a year earlier. In Freddie’s November 27 Primary Mortgage Market Survey, the mean rate on a 15-year, fixed-rate home loan was 3.15%. Incidentally, home loan processing firm Ellie Mae said refinances accounted for 51% of U.S. mortgage activity in October. The last month that saw so many refis: March 2015.

Florida House defends marijuana law in high-stakes case
In a Florida Supreme Court case with major ramifications for the medical marijuana industry, the Florida House contends a disputed 2017 law helps prevent “diversion” of pot to the illegal recreational market, minors, and other states. House attorneys several days ago filed a proposed friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn a July ruling by the 1st District Court of Appeal that said a key part of the law conflicted with a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. [Source:  CBS Miami ]
Florida environmental fines dip by half in a decade
Florida's environmental cops fine fewer than half as many polluters today – less than half as much than they did a decade ago – before former Gov. Rick Scott took office and shifted state regulators to a more pro-business posture, state data shows. DEP holds that the lower figures prove the success of the agency's mission to help businesses, utilities and other polluters to clean up their acts. But the agency's critics say the steep drop in fines reflects an ever-softening stance on environmental enforcement and permitting in Florida. More from   Florida Today .
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