Sunshine Economy: Business and Politics

Feb 29, 2016

Consistently, voters say the economy is one of the top issues in the race for the White House. It ranks higher than any social issue, gun rights or immigration. If Florida voters are anything like voters elsewhere, it’s the economy that is the big issue as early voting in the state's presidential preference primary begins.

Elections are about a lot of things, but for voters, elections are about paychecks, jobs, and the economy. Sure, national security and terrorism rank high on the list of voter concerns this presidential election cycle, but the economy is identified by voters as their most important issue time and time again.

With that in mind, the Sunshine Economy brought together a panel of business owners and operators from banking, technology and healthcare and construction to hear how politics impacts their businesses, and by extension the South Florida economy.

 

Economic backdrop to the election

Mark Vitner, Senior Economist, Wells Fargo

• There's a general sense that the conditions should have been better with the economy than they have been.

• I think there's a real sense of anxiety across the country, across the southeast and in South Florida that with the global economy slowing somehow this is going to come back and bite us a lot harder than than the consensus view.

Adrian Foster is President and CEO of Foster Construction of South Florida. Her firm employees fewer than 10 people.
Credit courtesy: Adrian Foster

  Adrian Foster, Pres. & CEO, Foster Construction of South Florida

• In the public sector, public school construction bonds have given our industry a real boost, particularly for small contractors.

• The real opportunities are right in our backyard.

• There's a lot of hope that we will be able to grow our business.

• I'm focused on the local market because there's a lot of work here.

TotalBank President Jay Pelham.
Credit courtesy: TotalBank

  Jay Pelham, President, TotalBank

• I'm still very encouraged about the South Florida real estate economy in general.

• I think you're going to see condo prices fail to appreciate as much.

Roberto Estrada, Pres. & CEO, HolaDoctor

• We focus on the Hispanic market and help and Hispanics buy products and services. We see a lot of big opportunities with Obamacare or without Obamacare.

Hector Figuero, President, 32BJ Service Employees International Union

• We have seen the country become more and more preoccupied with the gap between the rich and the poor. The middle class is under incredible financial economic stress.

Roberto Estrada is co-founder, President and CEO of HolaDoctor.
Credit courtesy: HolaDoctor

  How do politics play into the business cycle?

Mark Vitner, Senior Economic, Wells Fargo

• Typically in a presidential election year we see economic activity pull back a little bit in the second half of the year because people want to wait and see how the election is going to play out.

Jay Pelham, President, TotalBank

• There's a school of thought that political parties are becoming less relevant.

How the economy is playing as an election issue?

Hector Figuero has been president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union since 2012.
Credit courtesy: 32BJ SEIU

  Hector Figuero, President, 32BJ Service Employees International Union

We have seen in both the Democratic primary and the Republican primary that is anger and anxiety among voters, particularly working class voters who feel that the economy is no longer working for them. They're looking for solutions.

• Workers feel corporations were bailed out during the financial collapse. Rightly or wrongly, they see other groups gaming the system and being able to move ahead. They feel that the system has been unfair when they've been playing by the rules, working hard, paying taxes and trying to be responsible.

• Working people are less concerned with the wealth of an individual candidate. They're asking, 'Is this person somebody who's been part of the status quo? Is this person too close to the political decisions and economic initiatives that have not really worked for me?'

Adrian Foster, Pres. & CEO, Foster Construction of South Florida

• I'm not sure that what I'm seeing right now warrants me to make any major changes in my business.

• I am more concerned about a candidate focusing on changing Obamacare. Obamacare has allowed us to have the ability to attract more quality candidates by having the opportunity to offer health care insurance that is affordable.

Wells Fargo Senior Economist Mark Vitner.
Credit courtesy: Wells Fargo

  Mark Vitner, Senior Economic, Wells Fargo

I really think it's economic anxiety.

• It has a lot to do with the middle class and a lot of folks feeling that their their income has not grown significantly since the economy came out of the recession.

• No one really knows what who to blame and so typically it's very easy to blame it on some global competitors.

• People are looking for people to blame and that's why these nontraditional candidates seem to be doing well.

What would you ask a presidential candidate?

Mark Vitner, Senior Economic, Wells Fargo

 

• What specifically are you going to do to help generate stronger job and income growth?

 

Adrian Foster, Pres. & CEO, Foster Construction of South Florida

 

• As business owners, we sit down and at the table and negotiate issues all the time for the simple purpose of coming to an agreement so that we can move forward. What will you put in place to ensure that on Capitol Hill we're all working cohesively for the betterment of the American people?

 

Roberto Estrada, Pres. & CEO, HolaDoctor

 

• How are you going to balance the budget and pay down the debt? I think that's a big problem that we need to fix before too long.

 

Jay Pelham, President, TotalBank

• We've got a political gridlock issue. How are you going to address that?