BROOKSVILLE — Is the worst behind us?
No one knows for certain what's around the corner for Hernando County's economy. But a look at five years' worth of economic indicators seems to mark the beginning of what's been called Florida's long climb out of the recession.
Overall, in year-to-year comparisons, numbers appear to be moving in more favorable directions: Housing building permits and home sales are both up; unemployment and foreclosures are both down.
The last quarter of 2010, in particular, also saw greater optimism in the manufacturing sector, said Hernando County economic development director Michael McHugh. Many local companies are doing well and several have plans for expansion, he said.
Construction, the county's traditional economic growth engine, peaked in 2005, when 4,185 county permits were issued for single-family homes. In 2009, permits hit a low of 161 before inching up to 199 in 2010, according to the Hernando County development department.
Home sales also peaked in 2005 when 4,331 homes were sold. Those numbers, which have continued to be driven by high numbers of short sales and foreclosures, reached their lowest point in 2007, when 1,790 homes were sold.
During 2010, however, that number rose to 2,608 single-family homes sold, the highest since 2006, according to the Hernando County Association of Realtors Multiple Listing Service.
The number of foreclosures filed was down to 76 in November, the lowest number of monthly foreclosures filed since before 2008. The number of total foreclosures filed in 2010 was 2,186, the lowest yearly total since 2007, according to the Hernando County Clerk of Courts.
The current median home price is $98,500, down a few percentage points from a 2009 average of $100,400, but representing a small downshift when compared to the double-digit dips median sale prices took in previous years.
Overall, local numbers validate a report by University of Central Florida economist Sean Snaith, who predicted that the worst of the recession was behind us. He cautioned it would take time before things returned to normal.
For Hernando County, where the days of building multiple houses with multiple crews seem long gone, a new normal seems to have taken shape. Snaith predicts that Florida housing starts are likely to return to 2001 levels in 2013.
The housing boom fueled thousands of jobs, many of which evaporated as the market dried up. Hernando County unemployment may have hit its peak last January, at 15.8 percent. In November 2010, the last month numbers are available for through the state work force agency, county unemployment dropped slightly to 15.2 percent.
Statewide, Snaith predicts a slow decline in unemployment, stating it may be 2013 before it reaches below 10 percent and 2020 before it gets below 6 percent.
For some with multiple skills, tenacity and sometimes a little luck, unemployment has been short lived. Keith Albert of Weeki Wachee was one of hundreds hoping to get work through a job fair at Career Central last May. Albert had been laid off as a car salesman and was unemployed for four months before his telemarketing experience landed him a new job doing phone surveys.
Others, like Mike Garcia, have put job hunting on hold and decided to return to school. An Air Force veteran, Garcia began attending classes at Pasco Hernando Community College and plans to pursue a degree in health care.