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SOLID JOB GROWTH PREDICTED

A new study sees employment growth over the next seven years.

Health care jobs grow by 25 percent, professional and technical work jumps by 30 percent and even government booms, adding more than 3,000 new jobs.

Sound like fantasyland? Try Hernando and Pasco counties.

Despite the short-term gloom of slowdowns in the housing and credit markets, both counties are poised for solid job growth over the next seven years, according to a new study by the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of West Florida.

The report, commissioned by the Pasco Hernando Workforce Board, aims to help school boards in both counties plan so-called career academies to boost the local jobs outlook.

"This will ensure good jobs for area residents and a qualified, highly trained work force for employers located in the region," the report said.

Granted, most of the study's data was crunched long before the stock market tanked and voters passed the Amendment 1 tax-relief referendum last month, said Melissa Neal, associate director at the Haas Center.

But since the study uses census data and forecasting models to predict growth, its conclusions might only be delayed by an economic downturn, she said.

"We're not talking about a three- to four-year delay, maybe a one-year or 18-month delay," Neal added.

The study will likely come up today at a 1 p.m. meeting of the Hernando County School Board, which plans to open career academies next fall at each of the county's high schools.

Nature Coast Technical High School plans to offer an academy in allied health sciences, while Springstead High focuses on Web design. Central High will launch a career academy focused on business, and Hernando High students will get a chance to study agricultural and veterinary sciences.

Most of those categories are decent career bets for local students, according to the Haas study, since they capitalize on existing strengths in the local economies. Only two job sectors - agriculture and utilities - are predicted to lose jobs over the next seven years.

The career academy model became state law last year, after state Sen. Don Gaetz pushed through a bill requiring districts to offer vocational and technical programs that lead to industry certification in high-growth job markets.

Times reporter Jeff Solochek contributed to this report. Tom Marshall can be reached at (352) 584-5537.acts

FAST FACTS

Where will the jobs be?

Projected job growth in Hernando and Pasco counties, 2007-14

Health care - up by 6,000 jobs (25 percent)

Administrative and waste services - up by 6,000 jobs (21.5 percent)

Professional and technical - up by 2,700 jobs (30 percent)

Government - up by 3,397 jobs (14.8 percent)

Agricultural - down by 146 jobs (-4.7 percent)

Utilities - down by 130 jobs (-14.1 percent)

Source: Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development, University of West Florida

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