When Florida clawed its way out of the 2008-2009 recession, the phrase cautious optimism was an often tossed about platitude. A phrase that could best sum up the economic outlook for the region, and state, in 2022 is a bit different, but remains rather sunny: counterintuitive optimism.
That’s because multiple business owners and executives, while not immune to the many obstacles — Omicron, supply chain, inflation, etc. — believe Florida is the place to be for the next year. And beyond. This comes as states in the Northeast and Midwest gird for more possible COVID-19 lockdowns and a continuing population exodus.
Cameron Mitchell, founder and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, a Columbus, Ohio-based chain with some 40 restaurants nationwide under 18 brands and concepts, is a leader in the counterintuitive optimism parade. CMR opened Del Mar Naples on Fifth Avenue South Dec. 21. The two-story, 9,000-square-foot restaurant, in the heart of the eclectic Naples dining scene, replaces Café Lurcat and Bar Lurcat. And in late 2021 the company announced plans to open The Pearl, a restaurant, tavern and oyster room, in Water Street Tampa sometime in 2022.
“Florida has been very good to us,” says Mitchell, speaking on a mid-December Zoom call from his Columbus office as a light snow covered the ground outside. “We want to continue expanding in Florida into 2023.”
Mitchell says that includes possibly in the Sarasota market, eyeing the much-anticipated Quay development. In Tampa, CMR’s Ocean Prime Tampa, at International Plaza, is one of the best-performing restaurants in the company, he says. There’s also an Ocean Prime Naples, next to The Inn on Fifth on Fifth Avenue South. “The Naples market is just booming,” Mitchell says. “When we did the lease for Del Mar, we didn’t even know what the concept was going to be, we just knew it was going to be a dynamic location. I’m as excited about this location as I’ve been for any restaurant we’ve opened.”
Mitchell’s full-bellied positive outlook on the region isn’t an isolated case of confidence. From an executive at one the state’s busiest shipping ports to an ad agency CEO to a land developer, expectations for a robust, even dizzying, 2022 abound. (See pages 7-13 for more.)
That confidence, too, is shared by some of the state’s leading economists. Florida TaxWatch, for example, in its 2022 Economic Preview: Settling Into the New Normal, reports that official state estimates forecast Gross State Product (GSP) will grow 4.5% in 2022. It will then drop to a “more characteristic 2.5% growth rate over the subsequent years,” adds the report from the nonprofit, nonpartisan tax policy research and watchdog organization. “The higher than average GSP growth for (2022) speaks to the tremendous decline in economic activity that occurred early on, pent-up demand among consumers and Florida’s “open for business” strategy,” the report states.
That open for business approach resonates with Mitchell, a longtime restaurateur who founded CMR in 1993 with a guest philosophy of “the answer is yes. What is the question?” Mitchell’s optimism isn’t blind, either, coming with the requisite level of indigestion about all the standard 2022 challenges: hiring and retaining employees in what he calls “an atrocious” labor market; potential menu price increases due to increased costs; myriad COVID-19 variants; and more. “This too shall pass,” says Mitchell. “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
Even as obstacles and roadblocks proliferate, several businesses in the region are energized for a solid year. Click the links below to hear from businesses in various industries.