Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Business

Jobs numbers not improving, but officials say there's hope

While the latest numbers may point to a rosier statewide employment picture, the same isn't so for Hernando County, where the February jobless rate rose to 8.6 percent, according to the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What had been a slowly improving trend began turning worse in January, when the unemployment jumped from a five-year low of 7.6 percent in December to 8.4 percent. The latest figures put the county fourth-highest in the state in unemployment behind Hendry, Flagler, Hamilton and Putnam counties.

Florida's 6.2 percent unemployment rate fell to its lowest point since June 2008 as the state added 30,000 jobs in February. Meanwhile, the national unemployment rate for February fell to 6.7 percent.

Dave Hamilton, program manager with the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board, said the new data shows that the overall employment picture in Hernando County is less optimistic than it had been. The numbers reflect what is known as "benchmarking," a process the Department of Economic Opportunity uses to adjust the formula for counting unemployment statistics. Those adjustments show Hernando County was in more dire economic shape than originally reported.

For example, while the department originally listed Hernando's unemployment rate in January 2013 at 9.7 percent, it has since been adjusted to 10.3 percent.

"We're still better than a year ago, but we're far from being healthy," Hamilton said. "The upward trend we saw in the last quarter (of 2013) hasn't continued into the first quarter (of 2014). We're still in stagnation."

Hamilton said his agency's own statistics show that 1,000 more people entered the county's overall workforce in February. However, the new data shows the number of unemployed people rose by 800.

As has been the trend, Hernando's greatest job gains recently have been in the health care field and service industries such as retail and hospitality, something Hamilton considers a double-edge sword.

"Medical jobs tend to be steadier and have a higher wage, but the same isn't true for the service industry," he said.

Attracting new jobs to the county remains something of a wait-and-see game where not everything is apt to pan out. An example was the hoped-for major expansion this year of Accuform Signs that would have nearly doubled its present workforce of 300. A change in company plans has put the project on hold.

However, County Administrator Len Sossamon said that while the Accuform announcement was disappointing, a number of prospects are in the works that could brighten the county's future employment picture.

He cited the recent decision by Baker Parts, a Massachusetts company that refurbishes and manufactures industrial baking equipment, which recently signed a lease on a 24,000-square-foot facility at Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport and Technology Center with plans to bring 30 jobs to the county over the next three years.

While the Baker announcement is not on the scale of Accuform's original expansion plans, Sossamon believes the county's continuing goal to lure light manufacturing and high-tech industry will pay dividends as time goes along.

"There are big steps, and there are small steps and inroads," he said. "In another year, things will be much better. We're bringing the jobs here."

Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.

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