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Study puts county job growth at No. 16

The North Suncoast will boast some of the fastest-growing economies in the state during the next 15 years, according to annual economic projections released Monday by University of Florida researchers.

The forecast predicts job growth and per-capita income in the 67 counties through 2010, and Pasco ranks No. 16 in projected job growth. Its North Suncoast neighbors, though, rank higher: Hernando is No. 2 and Citrus is No. 8.

In order, Flagler, Hernando, Glades, Osceola and Charlotte counties are predicted to have the five fastest-growing economies during that time, according to UF's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. Job growth in those five counties will range from 3.7 percent to 5.0 percent a year. Hernando's growth is projected at 4.1 percent.

Pasco's growth, meanwhile, is predicted at 2.8 percent.

The top growth counties over the previous 15 years were Flagler, Hernando, Osceola, Lafayette and Collier. Hernando's job growth was 7.7 percent during that period.

Citrus County also is expected to prosper in the coming 15 years. Researchers predict it will have the eighth-fastest-growing economy in the state, with a growth rate of 3.1 percent. Rates for other Tampa Bay-area counties include: Hillsborough, 2.4 percent (tied for 26th); and Pinellas, 1.6 percent (tied for 47th).

The researchers predict Bradford, Holmes, Madison, Taylor and Washington counties will grow the slowest during the next 15 years. Growth in these counties will range from 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent a year.

During the previous 15 years, the slowest counties were Hamilton, Taylor, Gadsden, Jefferson and Dade.

Job growth rates largely reflect expected population growth, although commuting patterns complicate the picture for some counties. In addition, events such as the opening of a state prison or the closure of a phosphate mine also affect the projections, particularly for the smaller counties, researchers said.

All but eight counties in northern Florida and one county in South Florida will grow at least as fast as the nation during the next 15 years.

Of those counties with employment growth rates slower than the national average, six _ Calhoun, Hardee, Jackson, Taylor, Madison and Holmes _ also will have a slower population growth rate than the national average.

Bradford, Liberty and Washington will grow at a slower rate than the United States partly because of the nation's unusually large job growth in 1995.

In terms of absolute job growth, Orange, Broward, Hillsborough, Dade and Palm Beach counties will gain the most during the next 15 years. The same counties reported the largest job growth from 1980 to 1995.

Lafayette, Liberty, Holmes, Bradford and Calhoun counties will gain the fewest jobs. Hamilton, Glades, Jefferson, Lafayette, Calhoun, Liberty and Taylor counties added the fewest jobs during the past 15 years.

UF's researchers predicted that Palm Beach County will have the highest standard of living in 2010. The average household will have an income of $101,309 (adjusted for inflation). Dixie County in Florida's Big Bend is predicted to have the lowest standard of living at $34,690.

Predictions for Tampa Bay-area counties include: Hillsborough, $67,869; Pinellas, $66,885; Hernando, $48,478; Pasco, $47,861; and Citrus, $45,139.

_ Times staff writer Richard Verrier contributed to this report.