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ORLANDO-Florida is one of the hottest states for expanding retailers, despite the fact that construction and insurance costs are among the highest in the country. Representatives from a group of chains presented their expansion plans here at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Florida Conference.

Florida’s population is expected to double by 2050, according to data at the conference, and the economy in the state grows by about 6% a year. And besides the overall population increase, the Hispanic demographic, which makes up 20% of the market, is projected to double to 40%. However, one panelist said that construction costs can increase in the state by about 30% to 40% a year.

“We work hard to find good tourist markets,” says William Bierberbach, vice president of corporate development for Cocoa Beach, FL-based Ron Jon Surf Shop, explaining that the state has some of the strongest tourist areas in the country. Ron Jon, which currently has six units open, is looking for spaces between 10,000 sf and 15,000 sf in specialty centers.

Home Depot has been making a push in the state for years and currently has 140 units in the state, nearly 50 more than its largest competitor, says Michael Laferle, vice president of real estate at the Atlanta-based company. The company will likely choose a developer that can get a project completed the fastest and likes grocery stores a co-tenants.

Sweetbay Supermarkets, a regional chain from Tampa, tries to differentiate itself with its high-quality perishables, especially seafood, says Ryan Waddell, the retailer’s real estate manager. But the chain, which is owned by the Brussels-based Delhaize Group, is facing the likelihood of other concepts expanding in the state. “I think you’re going to see some new competition in the market,” Waddell says.

Another chain growing in the state is cosmetics retailer Sephora, which recently signed a deal to start opening units in J.C. Penney department stores, five of which it will enter by the end of the year. Cotenants that Sephora executives consider a good match include Ann Taylor, Williams-Sonoma, J. Crew and junior apparel chains.

“Our industry is absolutely booming in this part of the country,” says Michael Kercheval, ICSC’s president and CEO. About 4,500 industry professionals were registered to attend the conference, which is ICSC’s second largest behind its annual convention in Las Vegas.

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