Florida's unemployment rate fell to 5.6 percent in December, cementing a strong year of recovery in the jobs market. The rate, down from November's 5.8 percent, is now the lowest since April 2008.
In Tampa Bay, the jobless rate improved even more, falling to 5.5 percent, down from 5.9 percent a month earlier.
Including the boost of 12,700 jobs in December, Florida's workforce added 230,600 jobs for the full year.
One sign of concern: Even though Florida's working-age population (16 and older) grew by 17,000 over the month, the size of its labor pool shrank by the same amount. The labor pool includes all those who either have a job or are actively looking for one.
A shrinking labor force at least partially reflects retiring Baby Boomers, but it also could indicate some discouraged Floridians have given up looking for work. Over the past year, Florida's labor force had been growing steadily, and it still ended 2014 up by 226,000 residents.
The bay area, while improving, continued to trail several other Florida metros on the job creation front.
With 3,700 additional jobs in December, Tampa Bay was up by 14,300 jobs for the year, fifth-best among major metros and far behind leaders like Orlando-Kissimmee (up 47,500 jobs for the year), Miami-Miami Beach (up 30,300 jobs) and Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach (up 28,600 jobs). Even Jacksonville outpaced Tampa Bay by almost 10,000 new jobs.
Gov. Rick Scott released the latest economic snapshot Friday during the grand opening of SeaLand, a shipping company that pledged to create 65 jobs in tandem with opening its new headquarters in Miramar. Scott lauded new private-sector jobs in particular, pledging to remain "laser-focused on our goal of making Florida the global destination for business and job creation."
Jesse Panuccio, Scott's point-person for getting Floridians back to work as director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said strong public policy drove December's strong numbers.
"We now have the complete picture of Florida's economic turnaround," Panuccio said. "Last year was the best yet in Florida's recovery. . . . And we're not done yet."
Panuccio said a mix of tax cuts and "critical investments" will drive growth.
Scott Brown, chief economist with Raymond James Financial in St. Petersburg, cited a different economic driver for 2015: low gas prices that are helping the bottom lines of small businesses and the pocketbooks of middle Americans who will be inclined to spend more.
But he concurs with the positive forecast: "I'm really bullish about the U.S. economy and bullish about the economy for Florida looking forward," he said.
Contact Jeff Harrington at [email protected]om or (813) 226-3434. Follow @JeffMHarrington.