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UF survey: Hernando, Citrus have rosy job future

Two Tampa Bay area counties will be among the fastest growing 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 Hernando ranks No. 2 in projected job growth.

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.

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: Pasco, 2.8 percent (tied for 16th); Hillsborough, 2.4 percent (tied for 26th); and Pinellas, 1.6 percent (tied for 47th).

Darryl Johnston, president of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, said he was not surprised by the growth projections for Hernando, given the county's rapid population growth during the 1970s and 1980s and the effect the Suncoast Parkway is likely to have on the county. The first section of the parkway, which will link north Tampa with central Hernando, should open to traffic in 2001 and will bring many new jobs, Johnston said.

"I think it's encouraging news that our community is growing and will continue to grow," he said. "Hopefully we'll all be responsible about it."

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 North 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 _ will have a slower population growth rate than the national average.

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.

Job growth

Here are annual percent job growth rates from 1980-1995, and projected rates for 1995-2010.

County 1980-'95 1995-2010

Hernando 7.7 4.1

Citrus 5.7 3.1

Pasco 4.9 2.8

Manatee 4.5 2.7

Hillsb. 4.3 2.4

Pinellas 3.2 1.6

Florida 3.5 2.2