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Construction jobs hit hard in slump in employment

When the job market slows in Hernando County, people like Hal Haimbaugh are among the first to feel it. Haimbaugh, 42, is a mason from Inverness. His specialty is the supporting walls for mobile homes, and his territory is the entire North Suncoast. He once worked "14 hours a day just to keep up," he said. "Now if I work a half day, a couple of days a week, I'm doing good. Plus now, I have to drive four hours to get there."

The average unemployment rate in Hernando County for 1989 was 6.7 percent, up from 5.8 percent the year before, said Bob Byington, a labor market analyst with the state Bureau of Labor Market Information. And by the end of December that figure was up to 7.8 percent.

Construction is one of the hardest-hit areas of the market.

Byington said the decline is generally "due to the lack of manufacturing growth, the lack of construction growth, and to a lesser degree, a lack of growth in real estate, insurance and finance."

"It's down real bad," Haimbaugh said. "A lot of my friends are in construction, doing dry wall or stucco. They're hurting, just like me."

The bureau does not break down the statistics for Hernando County.

But in the four counties the Tampa bureau keeps track of - Pinellas, Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando - the manufacturing sector has been particularly hard hit.

Over the past year, manufacturing jobs have dropped from 97,200 to 96,800, while service jobs have jumped from 246,800 to 255,200.

In this four-county area, this increase in service jobs is due to

continuing growth in tourism, as well as smaller parts of the economy such as cleaning services, job location services and data processing, said Debby Thames, also an analyst for the Bureau of Market Information.

Though the service sector also includes high-paying jobs such as doctors and lawyers, more typical service jobs include those in retail sales and food services, which don't pay as well as manufacturing jobs, Byington said.

"An increase in services will mean, overall, an increase in lower-paying jobs," he said.

Some of the others in the construction industry, who like Haimbaugh frequently have breakfast at Green's Restaurant in downtown Brooksville, said that business was really not bad.

Joseph Ventura Jr., owner of Gulfview Electric in Port Richey, said he is currently advertising to hire another electrician. "We need help," he said. "This is still a growing community."

But, he said, there is a noticeable difference between the construction market now and the construction market of several years ago. "1984 and '85, that's when everybody was really flying," he said.

"Now it's easier to get help," Ventura said. "You basically have your choice of the better electricians."

In particular, he added, there are fewer large housing developments being built than there were earlier in the decade.

Ventura and others at Green's pointed out that the economic downturn in December, is part of an expected seasonal slump. "It's always slow this time of year," he said.

There were 300 more people looking for work in December than in November - 33,600 compared with 33,300 - while there were only 100 fewer jobs - 36,100.

Larry Dennis said that established construction businesses are not hurting. He and his father, owner of Edward Dennis General Construction, have been working in Hernando County their entire lives, he said.

Because he does mostly repair work, on older homes and for longtime customers "the growth of the county didn't help or hurt us either one."

But to some others, the Hernando County job market has never been a good one.

Adam Dzafic, 39, of Masaryktown, said he hasn't had a steady job since he worked as a painter for Lykes Memorial Hospital in 1979 and 1980. "That's the longest I've ever had a job," he said.

He said that he looks hard and regularly inquires about work at the Job Service office. "No matter what, I just can't seem to get a job with any clout," he said. With little education, he said, "the only thing I'm stuck with is tiny, little, puny ditch-digging jobs."

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