By Donna Gehrke-White, Sun Sentinel
South Florida has 7,230 more businesses than a year ago, aggressively reversing the trend of the Great Recession and growing at a rate far faster than the national average.
Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties — which suffered more than the rest of the country during the recession — is experiencing a quicker bounce-back. The area has seen a 3.6 percent annual increase of businesses, from 199,459 to 206,721, according to a report by PNC Financial Services and based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
U.S. annual growth was just over 2 percent.
The region lost more than 10,000 business during the recession, the worst financial crisis in decades. Now, there are about 2,000 more companies operating in the area than before the hard times hit, according to the survey. An influx of foreign invesment has helped in South Florida — especially with tech startups — compared to the rest of the country.
The U.S. as a whole "has not generated startups — that's why job growth has been so sluggish," PNC economist Mekael Teshome said.
The increase in local entrepreneurs and immigrants launching ventures, particularly in the tech sector, said Tony Villamil, an economist and dean of St. Thomas University's business school.
One tech entrepreneur is John Benton, who recently started a Fort Lauderdale-based website, play2shop.com, after three years of planning.
"South Florida is becoming this burgeoning startup community," he said. Play2shop is a gaming site where players can earn rewards to shop at Sears, Kohl's, Amazon and hundreds of other merchants.
A Fort Lauderdale native, Benton said he returned to the area from Las Vegas, which he said was harder hit by the recession than Broward. South Florida has more venture capital available for startups, he added.
Fort Lauderdale venture capitalist John Herbert said he invested in Benton's website because "I see a tremendous upside and potential." Plus, he said, "I can join in [on the website's] meetings and discussions."
Herbert and other local investors have more money to invest because "the real estate market is on the upswing, both commercial and residential," he added.
For example, South Florida's single-family home prices rose 13.7 percent in July from a year ago, the 19th consecutive month of increases, according to the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index. That has helped some local entrepreneurs pay for at least some startup costs with home equity loans, PNC's Teshome said.
Business people from other countries are starting companies in South Florida, especially those from politically unstable areas like Venezuela, said Manny Mencia, South Florida-based senior vice president for Enterprise Florida's international trade and business development division.
Many Asians are funding South Florida ventures to qualify for the EB-5 visa program, which allows offshore investors to live and work in the country if they put at least $500,000 into projects that create at least 10 jobs within two years, Mencia added.