One of the goals and primary focuses of the CEP from its inception has been to raise the wage level in our community. From our initial 5-year strategic plan (Moving Forward), one of the three BIG goals has been to not only attract new jobs but jobs which pay an average wage which is 15% higher than the county average. We evaluate every project we are working against this measure and we ask local government to only incent those businesses and jobs which will meet this standard.
The Census Bureau and various other economic entities provide a variety of ways for us to track this growth. The primary metric we use is the Average Weekly Wage as reported in the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. Today, the average wage which is required for us to incent a project is over $42,000/year. This is a 27% increase over the initial target wage just a few years ago.
A report was recently released comparing growth of the Average Weekly Wage over the last five years in every metro area in the US. Nationally, the AWW grew 4.5% over this period and it grew 5% in Florida. In the Ocala Metro, it grew by 14.8%! Compared to our ten benchmark cities (similar size communities from throughout the Southeastern US against whom the CEP measures a number of stats), we ranked number two in growth.
Another way to track this is Median Household Income. Many economists and statisticians prefer medians over averages to balance out the extremes. In August, the US Census Bureau released new data from the American Community Survey. From 2016 to 2017, the Median Household Income in the US grew by 1.8%. In Florida it grew by a more robust 3.4%. In Marion County, it ballooned by an incredible 11.5%! This is a truly remarkable number. Again, when compared against our ten benchmark cities, this growth ranked first.
The CEP is committed to continuing to grow wages and opportunities in our community by focusing on businesses and jobs which contribute to this growth. To continue this wage growth, we know that we must continue to diversify our economy and to attract more technology-related opportunities. In the new year we will be beginning the work to identify and research two niche sectors where we think we can grow. Longer term, this will require the commitment of additional resources, but it is imperative if we are to continue to positively impact wages.
The Ocala Metro is not a good community or a great one. It is an incredible one and we are committed to seeing our community becoming even more dynamic. As a result, we will continue to aggressively attract businesses which support this effort; proactively seek to retain and support existing businesses including our dynamic healthcare sector; encourage entrepreneurship; engage businesses with education to ensure students have the skills necessarily for these opportunities; and partner with local government so we have a business climate which supports all these efforts.
The mission of the CEP is to be the catalyst for a prosperous community. By partnering together, we can keep this community Moving Forward!