Unemployment drops slightly in Pasco, Hernando

David Hamilton was glad to see the monthly unemployment figures: Joblessness decreased by 1.1 percentage points in Pasco and 1.3 percentage points in Hernando County.

But he isn't ready to hand out hats and party horns just yet.

"I'm pleasantly surprised," said Hamilton, operations manager for the workforce board that oversees job services for the two counties. "But I want to see confirmation with another month's data. If the numbers go back up, it was an anomaly."

State unemployment figures released Friday for February show Pasco with a jobless rate of 12.5 percent, a drop from January's 13.6 percent and 13.4 during February 2010. Pasco had the seventh-highest unemployment rate.

Hernando's decrease was slightly larger, from 15.2 percent in January to 13.9 percent last month. That's also better than last February's 14.5 percent rate. However, the stellar numbers weren't enough to push the county out of second place in the state for unemployment.

Hamilton said the figures also might reflect greater numbers of people who gave up looking for work or who left the area.

"Because the labor force shrank, we probably (had) an increase in discouraged workers," he said.

Recovery has been uneven, with certain career fields rising to near prerecession levels.

"Our friends in the medical field are always hiring," he said. Manufacturing in Hernando County has risen close to levels seen in 2007. A variety of firms are seeking to hire, he said, from those that make hydraulic pumps to steel buildings to signs. In Pasco, accommodations and food service have overcome 2007 levels, though the jobs are not high wage. Education jobs also increased in Pasco, as rampant population growth since 2007 necessitated the building of new schools.

As for the construction field that once dominated Pasco's labor force, "it's bad," he said.

Those who work to lure economic development to the area say they're seeing glimmers of hope.

"Things are picking up but it's still slow," said John Hagen, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council, a public-private partnership whose mission is to attract high-wage jobs to Pasco. "Companies are starting to make some money, but they're still waiting to hire people."

However, Hagen recently announced he has five prospects who are seeking incentive money to move to the county or expand.

In Hernando, several businesses have expanded or opened. A new LED lighting manufacturer is expected to come in and create 10 to 15 jobs. Accuform Manufacturing, which makes 120,000 products, including safety signs, labels and warning tags, also added a 30,000-square-foot building, and HealthSouth expanded its billing operations.

"A number of business I speak to seem to be optimistic," said Mike McHugh, Hernando County's manager of business development. He has seen conversations shift from a tone of "We're trying to hang onto what we have" to "We're getting some orders in and need to take a look at hiring some talent."

Still, McHugh said, the positive numbers need to be viewed cautiously.

"I don't know that we're out of the woods yet, but we're chopping our way toward the edge."

By the numbers

12.5% Pasco's latest unemployment rate, down from 13.6 percent

13.9% Hernando's latest unemployment rate, down from 15.2 percent

6 Number of Florida counties with higher unemployment than Pasco

1 Number of Florida counties with higher unemployment than Hernando

Unemployment drops slightly in Pasco, Hernando 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 1:10pm]

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