CLEARWATER — Here are two snippets from the Central Pinellas Chamber of Commerce’s Jan. 23 economic forecast breakfast: Only 56 percent of Pinellas County third graders read at grade level. By 2030, 31.4 percent of the county’s population will be 65 and older.
Each of the challenges — youngsters who can’t read and older folks with skills and time on their hands — are linked through the opportunities they create. That’s the opinion of Dr. Jerry Parrish, chief economist for the Florida Chamber Foundation. He spoke about the area’s economic outlook.
“If you help a kid learn to read at his or her grade level, it has great, long-term economic benefits for the county,” Parrish said. “They progress in school better, and the kids will end up making more money in the long run.”
The economic summit, held in January every year by the Largo-based chamber, features a panel of business and political experts who share predictions and provide insight on significant global, national and regional issues destined to impact the Tampa Bay economy.
The breakfast, held at the Sheraton Sand Key, included four main speakers: Parrish; Catherine Stempien, Duke Energy’s Florida state president; Jay Saylar, director of special projects at Miles Partnership, a Sarasota marketing firm; and Mary Lou Brunell, executive director for the Florida Center for Nursing. Each spoke of trends in their fields.
Stempien talked about Duke’s — and the energy industry’s — use of drones to maintain rural electric transmission lines.
“It’s the cool technology stuff,” Stempien told the audience. “We started using drones in 2015, training folks in our aviation department. We have helicopters that fly the lines, so we cross-trained our transmission operators as drone pilots.”
The drones save labor costs by flying along the powerlines to determine where damage has occurred. They can be pulled in close to hover and stream video closeups of damaged insulators, analyze vegetation encroachment into rights of way and perform infrared damage assessments on power lines, she said.
When fallen trees, swollen streams and other obstacles block line trucks from driving on the rights of way under tall transmission lines, one of the company’s 100 or so drone pilots gets out, starts one up and, using handheld controls, flies the thing along the lines to see where there are fallen lines, snapped poles, and other damaged equipment.
“During Hurricane Dorian, when we were looking at the storm coming toward Florida, each of our transmission trucks had a drone on it,” Stempien said. “That is because drones can access areas where trucks can’t go.”
The company used the drones in Mexico Beach, the panhandle town that was literally wiped off the map. There the damage was extensive, she said. The devices also fly above the large fields of solar panels in Florida to check for broken panels or areas where their performance is weak in generating electricity.
Saylar, of Miles Partnership, introduced a new term to audience members: Over-tourism. The Galapagos Islands, Peru, Amsterdam, and parts of Florida have been stressed — even harmed — by too many visitors. The reefs in the Florida Keys, the Everglades, and other areas where tourists tread in large numbers have been damaged. Not to mention heavy traffic and other stresses to the infrastructure.
To fight the dramatic effects of tourist hordes, other countries have installed measures to limit access to sites such as Machu Picchu, for instance. They accomplish it by limiting the number of tickets they sell to see the sites in a given day. Florida could do the same, Saylar said.
“Nobody wants these types of crowds,” he said. “The rise of over-tourism is impacting every community.”
In fact, other Americans polled said they are much less likely to visit areas that see large crowds of tourists.
“If the U.S. destination has a problem with over-tourism, I am less likely to visit,” was the general feeling by many younger tourists, he said.
Brunell predicted something other forecasters have said: That Pinellas County’s population will age and fewer nurses will be around to serve them. In fact, demand for health care will make the field grow in Pinellas like no other sector. First fact: Predictions are for more than a million residents in Pinellas County in 2025, with more than 33 percent of those 60 and older.
“While other parts of the country have a decrease in demand for healthcare workers, the population growth creates a growing demand for healthcare in Pinellas,” Brunell said.
Brunell shared other predictions culled from Florida Chamber data:
• There will be 14,800 new health industry jobs by 2027.
• There will be a need for 44,886 new jobs, “not just replacing people, but creating new jobs.”
• At least 12 of the top 30 fastest-growing jobs will be health occupations.
The No. 1 fastest-growing job in the health industry will be physician’s assistant; No. 6 on the fastest-growing jobs list is nurse practitioner.
Kelvin Mack, community outreach and events manager for the Central Pinellas Chamber, said the experts at the forecast breakfast had great insight. The over-tourism theme struck a chord, he said.
“When Jay Saylar spoke about the over-tourism, it rang true for me,” Mack said. “In Pinellas County you can be out on the roads and see how clogged up it can be and how the obstruction can impact your life.”
Jackie Evans, associate dean at Jersey College of Nursing, which is part of Largo Medical Center on Indian Rocks Road, teaches young nurses.
“I found this an eye-opener, even though we’ve been aware of the trend of nursing shortages for years,” Evans said. “We can only graduate so many each year.”