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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida jobs chief Jesse Panuccio enjoys his swan song



As swan songs go, this wasn't a half-bad send-off for Jesse Panuccio.

The exiting chief of Florida's Department of Economic Opportunity, got to discuss a monthly jobs report Friday that was clicking on practically all cylinders:

• Unemployment fell to 5 percent, the lowest since 2008 and the first time it's as low as the national rate since January.

• Florida added a net 35,200 jobs last month, with every industry but information and government up compared to a year ago.

• The state's labor force grew twice as fast as its population over the month, an indication of sidelined workers rejoining the labor pool.

The year started off slow. In fact, year over year, Florida has struggled to create enough jobs to keep up with the influx of new residents. The state's labor force is actually down by 20,000 from a year ago despite the increase of 264,000 residents aged 16 and up. Some of the work force drop comes from retirees, but some is tied to discouraged jobless who have at least temporarily stopped looking for work.

The trend line has improved toward the end of the year, with nearly 70,000 new private sector jobs created in October and November.

Panuccio said in an interview Friday that, pending a strong report next month, he expects Florida to close the calendar year with its labor force back in positive territory compared to 2014.

"I feel good about where the department is (and) what we've accomplished the last three years," he said. "It really is a good time to be able to move on to some other things in my career."

He may resume a law practice or get into business, he said. As for talk that he would lobby for a judicial appointment: "If so, that'd be later in my career... There are some things I want to do back out in the private world. I don't think I want to take the bench right now."

Panuccio's exit came as he faced intense criticism from some state senators that threatened his odds of being confirmed as agency head next year.

But he insisted he still had widespread support from other senators and still insists that didn't factor into his decision to resign.

"Everyone knows how politics goes; that's just part of the process," he said. "Sometimes there are disagreements and that creates better policy... I think I had a great relationship with the Legislature. There's a lot more cooperation going on than not. That (cooperation) is 98 percent of the time."

Friday's jobs report came on the heels of other government data showing some Florida counties continue to perform poorly in wage growth.

But Panuccio took exception to that report, saying that statewide average wages across all industries are up 3.5 percent between November 2014 and last month. Moreover, some individual industries are up even stronger, like manufacturing up 5.2 percent and construction up 4.1 percent.

He acknowledged a longstanding problem with depressed wages and a reliance on lower-wage industries, but said that's starting to turn around with increased labor demand.

Panuccio said his boss, Gov. Rick Scott, is evolving from his initial focus on job quantity(with his "Let's Get to Work" campaign theme) to a broader focus on job quality.

"If you've been listening to the governor in recent months, he's really starting to talk about economic diversity," Panuccio said, saying "now that we've recovered from the recession" it's time to shift beyond just creating jobs.

To "inoculate ourselves" from the next recession and push beyond a reliance on tourism and real estate, he said, Florida needs to embrace a program of jobs incentives to lure out-of-state businesses, tax cuts, and improved workforce training.


[Last modified: Friday, December 18, 2015 2:40pm]


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