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Treasure Coast Yearbook 2009

Treasure Coast

“End of last year, everything stopped, (but) the calls are happening again.” — Patty Smail, owner, Shelter Structures

Vero Beach / Indian River County

See population, income and job statistics from this region.
Indian River, though one of the wealthiest counties in Florida, is feeling the recession along with the rest. Housing starts have fallen to 2001 levels, unemployment is 10.8% and the county’s largest private employer, aircraft maker Piper, has laid off 450 of its 1,100 workforce in the last six months, cut employee hours and is sending remaining employees on four weeks of unpaid time off to conserve cash. The state and county spent big to keep Piper, inducing it to stay last year with a $32-million incentive package. Piper took the first $10.7 million of that last year but has postponed the rest since the money was tied to expanding to more than 1,400 jobs by the end of 2012.
Patty Smail
Patty Smail’s Shelter Structures, based in Stuart, makes custom-designed, fabric-covered steel-frame buildings. [Photo: Jeffrey Salter]

Businesses to Watch

» California-based New Planet Energy is considering building an ethanol plant in Indian River County that would employ as many as 124 people. “It’s a substantial project,” says spokesman Jim Stewart.

» Fast-growing Bridgevine — from startup in 2003 to $19.3 million revenue in 2008 — expects to grow this year and add three or four positions in Vero, but “with the economy in the shape that it’s in now, we’re taking it on a quarter-by-quarter basis,” says CEO Vinny Olmstead. Bridgevine allows customers to shop online for everything from internet service to a dating service.

People to Watch

» Lisa Parker, 40, clinical operations manager for the United States for ADA Medical, a Canadian clinical research company, is leading the company’s expansion into the U.S. in Vero Beach. ADA will work with local physicians on phase two and phase three pharmaceutical trials. “There is a real need in this area for this type of business,” says Parker, a Florida native.

Who's Hiring
» Liberator Medical Holdings in Stuart plans to add 50 jobs.
» Despite being investigated for allegedly trying to defraud the federal government, Liberty Medical is hiring 800, mostly for call-center jobs.

Stuart / Martin County

“We were flying high, but the bottom has fallen out.” That’s the dismal summation from Stuart/Martin County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Joe Catrambone. Custom builders who wouldn’t touch a remodeling job now are eager to have the work. Banks say they can’t afford their chamber dues. The unemployment rate, 9.6%, is double that of a year ago. Housing starts are down to a trickle. John and Barbara O’Brien’s Gulfstream Aluminum & Shutter in Stuart was planning a 5,000-sq.-ft. addition, but they put it on hold “until we see what this economy is doing.” Two years ago, they employed 100; now, 45.

Shirley Pomponi
Shirley Pomponi, executive director of the Harbor Branch Oceangraphic Institute in Fort Pierce, is overseeing a $45-million renovation of
the institute.
[Photo: Deborah Silver]

People to Watch

» From the five-person Stuart office of their 6-year-old Shelter Structures, Patty Smail and her husband, Charly, develop and sell custom-designed, fabric-covered steel-frame buildings. The structures are in use in south Florida quarries and Libyan oilfields; two serve as an Air Force hangar in Kuwait. The company brings in $2.5 million in annual revenue. “End of last year, everything stopped (but) the calls are happening again,” says Patty Smail.

Business to Watch

» Liberator Medical Holdings in Stuart, a direct-to-consumer supplier to Medicare-eligible seniors, will add 50 jobs to its existing 100 as it expands its headquarters and call center in Stuart. Liberator turned a $376,766 profit in the first quarter on $5.45 million in revenue. CEO Mark Libratore, 58, founded Liberty Medical, which he sold to PolyMedica in 1996.

Port St. Lucie / St. Lucie County

William Pittenger, Seacoast National Bank’s senior vice president and chief real estate economist, projects that the new housing market in Indian River, Martin and Palm Beach counties will reach equilibrium this year while St. Lucie, where cheaper land led to more building, won’t reach equilibrium until 2010. Things are so gloomy in St. Lucie County, home to the fastest-growing large city (Port St. Lucie) in the nation in 2004, that one county commissioner recently proposed declaring a state of emergency so that the county could tap money reserved for handling natural disasters to do jobs-creating public works. St. Lucie unemployment is the highest in the Treasure Coast at 12%. The sunny side: The county’s incentive-backed diversification forges ahead. Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, and 190 jobs it has promised, opened this year, and the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute-Florida, which has promised 200 jobs, breaks ground this year. The Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County works with an offshoot of the Alfred Mann Foundation to find tenants for a huge Mann Research Center being developed. “We’re booming,” says council President Larry Pelton. Meanwhile, the housing market is finding an upside as homes fall toward the low $100,000s and return to the affordability for which St. Lucie was famous.

Business to Watch

» To staff a call center and other needs, Liberty Medical, a subsidiary of Medco Health Solutions and a major by-mail supplier of medical products, is hiring 800 to add to the 1,800 it already has in Port St. Lucie. Liberty, serving 4 million customers, supplies products for diabetics.

People to Watch

» Shirley Pomponi, executive director of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce and a veteran of more than 300 submersible dives, is leading a $45-million renovation and new-construction project at the campus while scientists there continue work on many fronts: Surveying the Pacific bottom, red drum aquaculture, drug discovery, discovering and mapping deep-water Atlantic reefs. Harbor Branch merged into FAU in 2007. The scientists’ work includes developing anti-cancer compounds found in marine sponges. “We have three compounds we’re focusing on right now that are very exciting,” Pomponi says.

Okeechobee County ?

Business to Watch

In a lightly populated county with a 10.7% unemployment rate, all jobs are welcome. The largest recent hiring: Five Guys Burgers and Fries opened an Okeechobee location in February.

Jan. 2008 Jan. 2009 % Change Jobless Rate
Port St. Lucie
132,300 123,900 -6.3% 11.2%
Sebastian Inlet/
Vero Beach
49,400 46,000 -6.9% 10.8%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Single-family, existing-home sales by Realtors
Jan. 2009 Sales 1-Year Change Jan. 2009 Price
1-Year Change
Fort Pierce /
Port St.Lucie

361 +81% $114,900 -34%
Source: Florida Association of Realtors

 2.4% or higher  1.0% - 2.4%  1.0% or less
2009 Average Annual Growth
Indian River
138,139 2.16%
146,101 1.35
41,203 1.15
St. Lucie 276,419 1.62
Florida 18,898,835 1.60%

Years of Age (2009)
County 0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+ Total
Indian River
14.9% 5.2% 23.2% 30.8% 25.9% 138,139
14.1 5.2 21.3 32.9 26.5 146,101
20.5 6.7 28.3 28.5 15.9 41,203
St.Lucie 17.5 5.9 26.9 30.0 19.8 276,419
Florida 18.0% 6.3% 25.8% 32.7% 17.2% 18,898,835

Per Capita Income 2009 Source of Income
Labor Property Transfer
Indian River
$57,193 37.9% 52.1% 10.0%
60,531 43.5 47.9 8.6
25,117 60.7 15.9 23.3
St. Lucie 29,519 58.0 23.2 18.8
Florida $40,331 67.6% 23.6% 8.8%