Think of the savaged Tampa Bay job market as if we've come through the worst of a forest fire, with the bulk of the scorching heat and flame behind us. Or that we've swum across most of a piranha-infested river with the opposite shore approaching.
The nastiest jobs damage of this recession now seems to be in the past.
That, at least, is how it feels after examining the past five years of Tampa Bay's large-scale job cuts, the kind that are required to be disclosed by state law as WARN notices. Such job cuts soared at the start of the recession, topping 4,000 in 2007. They peaked at more than 4,700 in 2009, fell sharply to 2,707 in 2010 and dramatically again to 1,175 in 2011.
The trend line for fewer job cuts looks promising for 2012 — barring any fresh news to induce another downturn or weaken business confidence.
That trend dovetails with the drop in Tampa Bay's regional unemployment rate, now at 10.3 percent after falling from well over 12 percent two years ago.
But it's not just the smaller numbers in job cuts that suggest better times are coming. We're also witnessing a moderation in the range and severity of job cuts over the past five years.
In 2011, the biggest job cuts reported as a WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notice numbered 133 by the Murphy Cap & Gown Co. in St. Petersburg, and 132 cuts by Verizon in Tampa at 132.
Contrast those with the 685 job cuts in 2009 by the Tampa reservation center of Continental Airlines — a company which has itself since been absorbed by United Airlines.
Or consider the 2008 cuts of several hundred automotive jobs by Lear Corp., whose dashboard components plant on Waters Avenue in Tampa was closed and outsourced to Mexico. Or in 2007, the whopping cuts of 751 jobs at the Home Depot's customer contact center in Riverview, which ranked among Florida's biggest large-scale downsizings that year.
Barring a major announcement of job cuts in this remaining week of 2011, this year's cuts were milder and involved mostly smaller firms (or larger ones paring jobs but typically not closing facilities).
Another hopeful sign among 2011 WARN notices was the decline in job cuts by manufacturing companies. Right or wrong, Florida clings to the belief that its economy has a future in manufacturing — actually making things — with jobs that require skills and usually pay more than the tourism industry jobs that now dominate most of the new employment opportunities in this state.
In recent years, we've seen name manufacturers like Smith & Nephew, Hunter Douglas, National Gypsum, NuAir Manufacturing and others announce major cutbacks.
Now we see less of that, even though Stanley Black & Decker this year cut 70 jobs, closed its Riverview manufacturing facility and moved its remaining work to Kentucky.
But let's not quibble with what's clearly an improving trend line. Regional jobs stability, at the least, is on the upswing. Here's to a better 2012.
Contact Robert Trigaux at email@example.com.