Florida is the top travel destination in the world, relying on tourism to drive its economy more than any other state. The Sunshine State also relies heavily on international trade, agriculture, aerospace and aviation, and the life sciences. As of 2019, Florida had the fourth-largest economy in the United States behind California, Texas, and New York with a gross domestic (GDP) product of $1.1 trillion and a $91.1 billion budget.
A record 126.1 million tourists visited Florida in 2018, a 6.2% percent increase over the 118.8 million visitors in 2017. As of February 2020, the Department of Economic Opportunity estimated that of the 9.1 million people employed in Florida, 1.3 million have jobs related to the tourism industry, which contribute $85.9 billion to the state GDP.
Florida is well-known for its miles of sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters. Visitors from around the world are drawn to the state’s 2,200 miles of shoreline and 663 miles of beaches. Over 25% of all visitors reported beach and waterfront activities as their top activities when visiting Florida.
Home to eight of the top 20 amusement parks in North America and three out of the top 20 water parks in the world, Florida welcomes millions of families each year to its amusement and theme parks. In 2018, an estimated 75 million people visited the Orlando area, where the majority of these parks are concentrated and employ thousands of Florida residents. Walt Disney World is the largest single-site employer in the nation, spending more than $2.7 billion on payroll in 2018 for 75,000 employees.
According to a Cruise Lines International Association 2019 study, Florida's cruise industry generated 12.4 million passenger and crew visits, accounting for almost 50% of all passenger and crew visits in the United States. Onshore spending by passengers and crews produced just over $1.2 billion. Total passenger and crew spending in Florida increased by 15% in 2018 from 2016.
Florida’s famed agriculture industry employs nearly 1.4 million people and contributes more than $131 billion to the state’s economy each year. Florida’s warm climate offers farmers a growing season from 100 to 200 days longer than other regions of the country. The nation’s highest annual average precipitation of any state also increases yield production to create ideal growing conditions.
Among the top agricultural commodities in 2017 were greenhouse and nursery products, oranges, tomatoes, dairy products, and sugarcane. Florida produces 70% of the annual U.S. production of citrus, and 95% of commercial orange production in the state is mostly used for producing 90% of the nation's orange juice supply. Florida ranks second nationally for greenhouse and nursery products, the state’s leading crops financially, and ranks second in U.S. production of fresh vegetables.
3. International Trade
Florida is one of the largest export states in the United States and is a major gateway for merchandise trade between North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, and other world regions. Nearly 17% of all U.S. exports to Latin America and the Caribbean come from Florida. Given the convenient geographic layout of the state, most companies are a short drive to one of four major cargo gateway ports located in Florida. This access gives even small companies opportunities to export products overseas.
Merchandise exports shipped from Florida totaled $56 billion in 2019. Florida is America’s eighth biggest exporter after Texas, California, and Washington state. Florida’s exports represented just over 3.4% of the United States exported products for 2019. Florida’s exported products represented 5.5% of the state’s total economic output or real GDP in 2018. Florida’s leading exports include motor vehicles, aircraft, engines and parts, telecommunications equipment, computers and components, and gold. The state is also expanding exports of waste and scrap, agricultural products, seafood, livestock, minerals, forestry products, and oil and gas.
4. Aerospace and Aviation
The annual economic impact of aviation-related activities in Florida is estimated at $175 billion, and its 19 commercial airports account for 10% of the nation’s total passengers. As of 2018, 2,326 aerospace and aviation companies were located in Florida, employing more than 106,000 workers making an average salary of $79,206. Many of these companies are located in northwest Florida, which has become a hotbed of aviation and aerospace activity, including research and development, testing, and education. Florida is home to 20 major military installations and more than 60,000 active duty military, and a significant number of veterans, rocket scientists, machinists, pilots and engineers. Florida aerospace and aviation companies have a vast pool of qualified talent.
No other state rivals Florida’s history in the aerospace industry, and it is uniquely positioned to continue to be a leader in the field for some time. It is home to two of the ten active spaceports in the United States: Cape Canaveral Spaceport and the Cecil Field Spaceport. Eight of the 24 licenses permitting private firms to send rockets into space are authorized from sites in Florida, further cementing its place as a leader in aerospace travel.
5. Life Sciences
Florida has firmly established itself as a hub for the life sciences, with 6,200 establishments located throughout the state directly supporting 87,000 jobs. As of 2015, Florida’s life science industry average salary was nearly double the state average at $78,000.
Florida is home to world-renowned biomedical research institutes, pharmaceutical and medical device companies, and more than 46,000 healthcare establishments. Over 200 pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing companies specializing in the development and manufacturing of new treatments, generics, nutraceuticals, and over-the-counter drugs are based in the state. Florida is also ranked second among states for FDA-registered medical device manufacturing facilities.
6. Financial Services
While not many top banks are based in the state, most of the nation’s largest financial companies have extensive operations in Florida. With one of the wealthiest populations in the nation, Florida has the highest percentage of bank deposits held at out-of-state headquartered banks. Taking advantage of Florida’s business-friendly legislation, favorable tax climate and large market, finance, insurance, and professional services firms represent 9% of the state’s employment, with nearly 135,000 firms employing over 900,000 Floridians.