Statewide Sage Focuses on Local Economy

As University of Florida economist David Denslow retires and turns his attention to studying the local economy, he hopes to provide insight that can help form public policy.

David Denslow has been one of the University of Florida’s best-known professors for decades.

That’s in part because of his influence on the approximately 100,000 students he’s taught in the university’s introductory macroeconomics classes and in part because of his comments on the Florida economy, both for newspaper articles and in legislative testimony.

While working in his position since 1970, he hasn’t had much time to focus on the Gainesville economy. That’s changed since Denslow’s recent retirement.

Now he’s launching a study of the area’s economy, an ongoing project that he hopes will prove his hunch that the Gainesville area would be better off if it were growing at a faster rate. He’s also going to examine why the eastern part of Alachua County still lags economically, despite repeated attempts to give it a boost.

Denslow reflected on his career and shared his excitement about his new venture with the Business Report.

How did you become involved in studying and commenting on state issues?
I got involved soon after coming here. Part of that was because Buddy McKay was in the Legislature and got me to work on workers’ compensation, which led me to get more and more involved in state issues. Some students in the large courses I taught became state leaders and talked with me about state affairs, which led me to become more and more involved.

All along, I have been interested in community issues, but I never was well informed about them. I had a notion that it would be better for the university and the community, including east county, if Alachua County were growing faster.

For a time, our growth was propelled by the growth of the student body of UF and Santa Fe College and the expansion of medical services.

I don’t think that the number of students at UF will continue to rise. State and federal funding and other resources for the university aren’t going up. Our normal sources of growth aren’t going to keep us going at anything close to even 2 percent a year growth. The standard projections have us at a 1 percent a year increase in population.

It seems to me that the community would be better off with 3 percent growth. One reason relates to the airport. Let’s say hypothetically that the county doubled in size in the next couple of years. That might triple the size of air travel, because the increase in growth would mean that service would increase, probably including service by more low-cost carriers, and there probably would be more destinations and more frequent flights.

These changes would pull back to Gainesville a lot of the people who are flying from Orlando, Tampa or Jacksonville. Then if you have more frequent air travel, you bring in more companies that depend on air travel.

Another beneficiary of growth would be the arts. The Phillips Center puts on a magnificent program, but with the recession, it’s been tougher to do. If we had more people, they’d bring in more outstanding performances, and that would make the city that much more attractive.

What are your observations about the “innovation economy?”
If you look at Gainesville’s prospects, things are bright. We are obviously part of the global knowledge economy. Although state and federal funding are limited, we have prospects for the private sector to step in. Innovation Square is precisely the right thing to do, and the university is very active in encouraging small business start-ups.

Are you impressed with the growth of innovation-based companies over the past decade?
From my casual observations, local governments have become friendlier to bringing in business, and the university has been more aggressive trying to partner with new businesses. We had the Progress Corporate Park since 1995, which was nice to have, but Innovation Square is much better located.

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