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RELOCATION OF WORKERS LIKELY TO LAG

Ready, set, move.

Now that Amendment 1 has passed and Floridians can take a good chunk of their property tax savings with them when they move instate, will it trigger a cavalcade of moving vans Around the bay area?

Stunned Realtors aren't the only ones hoping for a rebound.

Consider the employer who can't lure a job prospect who lives 100 miles away. Or the worker bee who feels stuck in a position as she restricts her job search within driving distance of her house.

Here's one overlooked effect of plunging home values: The number of job seekers willing to relocate for a new position fell to a record low in the last quarter of 2007.

Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the Chicago-based outplacement guru, said last week that only 11 percent of job seekers relocated for a new position in the fourth quarter. A year earlier, 15 percent were willing to make a move.

Says firm CEO John Challenger: "Even in a strong housing market, convincing candidates to relocate for a new position is a challenge for corporate recruiters. ... Tack on the fact you could sell your home at a loss, and that takes relocation off the table for many."

Labor flexibility, he says, has been one of the keys to economic vitality. Can't find work in one part of the country? Go where the jobs are.

Challenger applauded Florida's move to make property taxes portable as "the kind of measure that government ought to be looking at" to spur job seekers to get up and move about the country.

But don't get too excited. Here in Florida, portability and rate cuts only go so far to stimulate a moribund housing market. Until housing values stabilize and the economy perks up, Challenger and others say, don't look for a relocating spree.

As for that economic turnaround, based on the St. Petersburg Times annual survey of Tampa Bay area business leaders, only 39 percent of companies plan to increase their number of employees this year, down from 56 percent a year ago.

On the sunny side of the survey, the number of companies that say it's "a lot of trouble" to find the right people and skills locally fell from 31 percent to 17 percent.

In other words, it's not all bad that workers have been stymied from relocating. It appears to have helped companies here in their never-ending fight to keep homegrown talent from moving away.

Hmmm, maybe we should rethink that portability thing.

Jeff Harrington can be reached at harrington@sptimes.com.

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