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Rise in mass layoffs points to a longer economic recovery in Florida

Despite a housing crash and depression-level downturn in Florida construction, asphalt-shingle manufacturer GAF Materials never laid off any workers from its Tampa plant.

Until now.

This week, GAF let go 50 employees, just over half its Tampa operation, blaming slack demand.

"We can definitely say that the market for roofing products has softened over the last several months," said Ted Marcopolus, company vice president of marketing services.

Florida's economy may still be slowly improving, but here's one barometer hinting that any jobs recovery will come in fits and starts: a rash of preholiday layoffs like the one at GAF.

Over the past seven weeks, 17 companies have filed mass layoff notices with the state affecting a total of 2,867 employees. That's roughly twice the 1,449 jobs lost in mass layoffs for all of October and November last year.

"I'm not looking for it to get a lot better in terms of layoffs," said David Denslow of the University of Florida's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "I think it's going to be hard, and I had been one of the most optimistic about unemployment. I turned out to be wrong on that."

Denslow said he still doubts the state is facing a double-dip recession, but he believes that recovery is likely to be slower and more raggedy than many expected.

Companies are required to file Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification, or WARN, notices with the state when they impose large-scale layoffs. The notices represent only a small portion of the state's overall job cuts.

The largest among recent WARN filings: Orlando time-share resort operator Tempus Resorts laid off 550 workers last week in tandem with filing for bankruptcy reorganization and selling assets of the troubled company to Diamond Resorts Corp. Tempus president and CEO Roger Farwell said he hopes Diamond rehires most of the displaced workers, but he offered no guarantees.

In addition to GAF, job cuts closest to home over the past week include:

• Capital One laid off 42 workers (on top of 24 layoffs last month) bringing its Henderson Road complex in Tampa down to 350 employees. Spokeswoman Julie Rakes said the cuts were tied to transitioning the site from supporting one line of business (auto finance) to another line (credit cards).

• Mail-order firm Thompson & Co., best-known for marketing a large inventory of cigars, laid off 77 workers in its linens and apparel divisions. The two units had been sold to two separate Boston-area companies and only a handful of workers are relocating, said David Gebhart, the company's vice president of human resources.

Even some industries that benefit from tough times have run into speed bumps.

David J. Stern's troubled foreclosure law firm in Broward County said it has laid off more than 700 workers since mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac opted to pull cases, according to an SEC filing earlier this month. (Only 416 of the job cuts have been reflected in WARN filings so far.)

Chris Lafakis, an economist at Moody's Analytics who tracks Florida, said a spike in layoffs could be a concern, but he prefers to see three months worth of data before declaring any trends. Moreover, he said, the surge runs counter to some more encouraging numbers: Mass layoffs had been trending down throughout the year; hiring in the private sector is up slightly in recent months; and initial claims for unemployment insurance have fallen to their lowest level since the financial meltdown in late 2008.

Lafakis' conclusion: "The cloud of uncertainty looming over Florida's fragile recovery has begun to dissipate as a handful of indicators suggest that the rate of recovery is no longer decelerating."

Among other hopeful signs: tourism is picking up, the medical sector continues to grow and consumers continue to cut down their credit card debt. Ironically, that last economic improvement has a direct correlation to recent job cuts. Capital One said it needs fewer auto finance staffers in Tampa in part because of customers' improved financial condition.

Short-term, holiday hiring helped knock Tampa Bay's jobless rate from 12.4 percent to 11.8 percent over the past month.

Earlier this week, a group of state economists forecast Florida's unemployment rate will stay around 11.8 percent in the first quarter of 2011 before dropping to 11.6 percent. They don't envision a return to single-digit unemployment until late 2012.

2009

1,449

Employees let go as part of mass layoffs in October/November

22

Companies involved

2010

2,867

Employees let go as part of mass layoffs in October and so far in November

17

Companies involved

WARN notices

Under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, companies must report to the state when an employment site will be shut down involving 50 or more people or when 500 or more workers are involved. They also must report when at least 33 percent of the work force at a location is cut.



Rise in mass layoffs points to a longer economic recovery in Florida 11/24/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 24, 2010 9:04pm]

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