Improvements in transportation and infrastructure will be critical to Broward County's economic growth, business leaders said Thursday during a panel discussion.

The All Aboard Florida passenger train between Miami and Orlando, the intermodal railway system at Port Everglades and the downtown Wave electric streetcar all will play a role in coming years, they said. Improvements at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport also will have an effect, they said.

More than 100 members of the business community gathered for the discussion by leaders of the marine, real estate and cruise sectors. The nonprofit Tower Forum, a non-partisan business organization in Fort Lauderdale, hosted the event.

"The airport expansion was critical for our industry and is going to be a big driver for not only cruising, but for the hospitality industry," Mark Conroy, a cruise industry veteran and former president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, told attendees. "The easier it is for people to get in and out, the better for the economy."

With 21.7 million people expected to cruise globally in 2014 — the majority from North America — "the potential is almost unlimited to bring people into South Florida for cruising from all over the world," Conroy said.

Already, roughly 11 percent of all cruises departing South Florida leave from Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades, he said.

As for the marine sector, Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, said, "The clouds are clear."

Still, finding ways to grow an industry that has a $7 billion economic impact in Broward remains a priority. Plans include improving the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show and ensuring a skilled workforce for boatyards and repair facilities, Purcell said.

Speakers noted improvements in Broward's economic climate: new and growing businesses, falling unemployment and improving real estate development, particularly residential.

Home buying is up as well as purchases of second homes, and although inventory is low, it's starting to loosen up, said John Castelli, broker and senior partner with Castelli Real Estate Services.

"It's sort of a sellers market at the moment, which that hasn't been for a long time," said Castelli, whose company has 170 agents in four South Florida offices.

While Broward is "pretty well built out", real estate development is still going to happen but it will come from repositioning of existing properties, Castelli said. "Redevelopment is the future here."

asatchell@tribune.com, 954-356-4209 or Twitter@TheSatchreport.