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 2015, Florida had the fourth-largest economy in the United States behind California, Texas and New York with a real gross domestic (GDP) product of $840 billion and a $77 billion budget.
A record 116.5 million tourists visited Florida in 2017, a 3.6% percent increase over the 112.4 million visitors in 2016. As of 2015, the Department of Economic Opportunity estimated that of the 9.1 million people employed in Florida, 1.1 million have jobs related to the tourism industry, which contributed $51 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. Ninety-two percent of visitors to Florida’s beaches come from other states or overseas, and 40% of all U.S. visitors reported beach and waterfront activities as one of 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 2017, an estimated 72 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 $1.2 billion on payroll and $474 million on benefits each year for 66,000 employees.
According to a Cruise Lines International Association 2016 study, Florida's cruise industry generated 11.5 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 billion. Total passenger and crew spending in Florida increased by 1.5% in 2016 from 2014.
Florida’s famed agriculture industry employs two million people and contributes more than $104 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.
The top five agricultural commodities in 2014 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 40% of the world’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. Eighty percent of the fresh vegetables consumed in the United States from January through March each year come from Florida.
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. Forty percent of all U.S. exports to Latin and South America pass through 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 $55 billion in 2017. Florida is America’s eighth biggest exporter after Texas, California, and Washington state. Florida’s exports represented just over 3.5% of the United States exported products for 2017. Florida’s exported products represented almost 7% of the state’s total economic output or real GDP in 2016. 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 $144 billion, and its 19 commercial airports account for 10% of the nation’s total passengers. As of 2017, 1,755 aerospace and aviation companies are located in Florida, employing more than 103,000 workers making an average salary of $66,000. 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 50,000 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 nine active spaceports in the United States: Cape Canaveral Spaceport and the Cecil Field Spaceport. Eight of the 17 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 $73,545.
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 11% of the state’s employment, with nearly 130,000 firms employing almost 900,000 Floridians.