Pasco and Hernando bear the unfortunate distinction of having the two highest unemployment rates in the Tampa Bay area — but that didn't stop CNN Money from listing them Wednesday among the nation's top 25 counties in terms of job growth over the past eight years.
The story, which appeared on Yahoo! under the headline "Where the Jobs Are," ranked Pasco No. 13 and Hernando No. 18. (No. 1 was Pindal, Ariz., south of Phoenix, with a job growth rate of 95.9 percent.) Other Florida counties making the list included Lake at No. 8, St. Johns at No. 12 and Lee at No. 23.
The story, which cites the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as its source, described Pasco as a "sleepy retirement community" that got "a wake-up call with an influx of young workers over the past decade."
"Retail and service jobs followed a boom in residential construction, and the area is trying to attract other businesses as well," it said, noting that financial giant T. Rowe Price was considering the area for an expansion that could bring 1,600 jobs.
It called Hernando "the man in the middle," centrally located in relation to Tampa, Orlando and Gainesville.
It noted the Wal-Mart distribution center in Ridge Manor West, as well as more than 100 aviation, manufacturing, and transportation-related businesses.
It also noted a new business incentive program and recent expansion announcements from HealthSouth and Neubert Aero.
Local economic development types were thrilled about the positive headlines.
"(The Shops at) Wiregrass opened up and has been so successful even after the economy slowed down," said John Walsh, interim president of the Pasco County Economic Development Council. He said it's evidence that employment opportunities have been good for people actually working in Pasco as opposed to those commuting south.
How does CNN's report jibe with the high unemployment rates in both counties?
Unemployment rates are tied to where people live, not where the jobs are, Walsh explained. So when a Wesley Chapel commuter loses a job in Tampa, for instance, he becomes part of Pasco's unemployment rate. With a considerable number of commuting residents, Pasco and Hernando took a hit on their unemployment rates when some of those out-of-county jobs dried up.
"If we had more jobs in Pasco County, we'd see a lower unemployment rate," Walsh said. That's a big reason to go after companies such as T. Rowe Price, he said.
Mike McHugh, director of business development for Hernando, said despite the current unemployment picture, the two counties did enjoy a boom that resulted in a net job increase.
"We have a high unemployment rate right now, but it doesn't negate the fact that we still experienced significant job growth," he said.
He reiterated Walsh's explanation about work force figures and unemployment rates.
"Work force is based on where you work. Unemployment is based on where you live," he said.
"Certainly we want to see unemployment trend back down. But Pasco and Hernando counties have a disproportionate share of the work force so we have a disproportionate share of unemployment."
The explanation probably wouldn't change the minds of some online posters, who criticized the CNN Money story as out of touch with the current crisis caused mainly by the housing bust that has ravaged the area.
"Instead of 'Where the Jobs are' this feature should be 'Where are the jobs'," wrote Tim Sampson.
Carolyn Gallagher said she lives in Pasco but all she sees are vacant retail and office parks.
"People are moving out in droves because the jobs are drying up. If you like working at Walgreens or CVS you'd be in luck … there is one or the other at every intersection."
And this from Hernando poster Leo Muzzin:
"Well-educated workers generally commute to Tampa to earn a decent living. If you plan on moving here you need to be established in the health care field or are okay with retail or flipping burgers."
Other Florida posters were equally generous with criticism. From Hotdog Man in Lee County:
"Lee County's unemployment rate just hit 13 percent for the month of June," he wrote. "CNN should pull this insane article from the site."
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Lisa Buie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4604.