Three of the best brains Florida can offer on our divisive political scene, troubled economy and shell-shocked housing market pooled their talents Wednesday in Tampa to shed fresh light on where Florida is heading in 2011 and beyond.

Veteran University of South Florida political science guru Susan MacManus. University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith and Metrostudy housing market analyst Tony Polito offered insights on the good, bad and ugly the morning after the president’s State of the Union address. They spoke at a Tampa breakfast outlook sponsored by SunTrust Bank.

The bottom line? Florida has a heap of woes. Floridians doubt the country’s direction. Florida’s 12 percent jobless rate will take years to shrink. And our already devastated home prices are still dwindling.

But just hang on. Things are improving. In the end, the influx of baby boomers — just starting to hit 65 in droves — will pour into Florida and reinvigorate state growth.

Here are the 10 best observations gleaned from the trio:

10. Americans are unsure about their country’s standing. A Rasmussen poll shows 45 percent believe America’s best days are over, while 35 percent believe its best days are still ahead. (MacManus)

9. Depression-era people acquired lifetime frugal habits. When his grandmother passed away, Snaith recalled how they found cash hidden in her home. And now? The country’s going through its own “mini stage of austerity.” Expect it to last, at least for a while. (Snaith)

8. Pretend the housing bubble never happened and home prices had instead increased at the historical average of 3.5 percent a year. Where would prices be today? Close to where they are right now. Affordable, at under $150,000. (Polito)

7. Challenges abound, from political redistricting and budget woes (beware states talking bankruptcy — just not Florida) to the nation entering a “permanent election cycle” (2012 presidential debates start in May). That constancy will “tamp down voter turnout.” (MacManus)

6. “I am bullish — better make that knightish — on the I-4 corridor” as an economic breadbasket for Central Florida. Hopefully, that “includes HSR” (high speed rail). (Snaith, reminding his audience he is a UCF Knight, not a USF Bull).

5. In November, Tampa Bay’s 12.6 percent jobless rate meant 165,199 area people were out of work. To drop that rate to 5 percent, 100,000 would have to find jobs. The reality? “Tampa Bay added 1,500 new jobs in 2010.” Do the math. (Polito)

4. In Florida’s eventual economic rebound, Tampa Bay’s job growth will be second only to Orlando’s. (Snaith)

3. People no longer will get in their cars and drive out of town until they find affordable housing. Gas is getting expensive and people want to be closer in to urban areas and places to work. “The driving mentality is out.” (Polito)

2. Good news. A Gallup poll finds 43 percent think the economy will be better in the next two years and only 20 percent think it will be worse. (MacManus)

1. “I am extremely optimistic long term. Florida has a lot to look forward to.” Several weeks ago Florida was the only state out of all 50 that did not have any snow. “Put that on a Super Bowl ad.” (Snaith)

Source: St. Petersburg Times, Ten insights from three veteran observers on Florida’s slow recovery, by Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist, in print: Thursday, January 27, 2011. Contact Robert Trigaux at