Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

Employment in Pasco slowly bouncing back

WESLEY CHAPEL

For the Ralstons, job hunting is a family affair.

Father Jon, 56, and son Nathaniel, 24, stood in line last week in a vacant store at the Shops at Wiregrass. Dressed in coats and ties, they hoped to snag two of the 75 available jobs, even though they are already working.

"It's hard," said Jon, who was laid off from a director's job with the Boy Scouts of America when the organization restructured in 2008. "Our mortgage is still underwater."

Jon and Nathaniel have jobs at Busch Gardens, but the Land O'Lakes residents were among the thousands of workers whose hours were cut so the company could avoid the new Obamacare requirement to offer health insurance to those working 30 hours or more a week.

"We're becoming a nation of multiple part-time jobs," Jon said. "Our health plan is we hope we don't get sick."

The Ralstons and the 300-plus job seekers who joined them during the three-hour job fair were searching in a field that has bounced back from the 2009 recession — retail. In fact, overall unemployment in Pasco has fallen to 7.8 percent. In August of 2010, it was 10 percent. It remains higher than Pinellas and Hillsborough, each of which reported 6.7 percent in August, but lower than Citrus at 8 percent and Hernando at 8.5 percent.

"It's not the rosy times of 2003, but it's better than the recession," said Dave Hamilton, operations manager for the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board, the agency that funds one-stop job centers in both counties called Career Central.

Hamilton said about 7,000 more Pasco residents have jobs than this time last year. And about 3,300 more people from Pasco who gave up also are looking again.

"That's a significant change," he said.

Where are the jobs?

Health care is hot, especially with the recent openings of new hospitals and spin-off medical offices.

"The health care industry has never suffered," Hamilton said.

Last year the county employed about 17,000 health care workers, according to the state. Now it has about 18,500.

Retail also has done well, recovering all its jobs since 2010.

"It's not sexy, but it's a major area employer in our area," Hamilton said, noting that 18,800 Pasco jobs are in retail.

"The problem with retail trade jobs is that they are low wage, but they are hiring," he said.

Manufacturing remains flat but might show improvement in later surveys. Adams Arms, a gun manufacturer in Odessa, recently announced an expansion that will add 100 new jobs. Pall Aeropower, which manufactures filtration systems, announced it would consolidate its operations at its New Port Richey plant.

The slump in construction continues, with the number of jobs totaling 6,400. Compare that with 2007, when it employed 11,000. Education and public administration, which have been hit by government budget cuts, also have not returned to pre-recession levels.'

That doesn't necessarily mean someone can't find a job in those fields.

"Everybody is hiring all the time," Hamilton said. "Every industry is churning."

Those lined up at the mall last week hoped to land something, even if it was part-time or seasonal. Competition is expected to be a bit stiffer this year for holiday jobs, as most stores expect to hire the same number or fewer workers than last year. Walmart was the only major retailer expecting to hire more.

The question most heard last week at the fair referred to applicants' availability. Those who could work nights and weekends — prime shopping hours — were most likely to get hired.

Several applicants were looking for second jobs.

Robert Williamson, 23, stopped at Fast Fix jewelry and watch repair store to turn in a resume. He already works at BJ's Wholesale Club.

"It's not enough," he said. "I have two kids to take care of."

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