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Florida unemployment at 3.9 percent for sixth straight month

For the sixth month running, Florida's unemployment rate held at a nearly 11-year low of 3.9 percent in March as steady job gains continued.

While many factors kept Florida's economy chugging along, three industries stand out for leading year-over-year job growth: professional and business services; hospitality and leisure; and construction.

Together, those three sectors accounted for nearly 60 percent of the jobs created over the year.

Leading the pack was professional services, which added 38,100 jobs. Leisure and hospitality added the second highest number of jobs (32,300) followed by construction (31,600).

Hospitality's gains come despite the temporary hit that the industry took following Hurricane Irma. In Hillsborough County alone, more than $600 million was generated in hotel revenue in 2017, and had record-breaking numbers for hotel stay in most of 2017.

Construction has barreled ahead in job creation over the year, jumping 6.3 percent from March to March. Florida's construction sector added the third-highest number of jobs in the country behind California (54,400 jobs) and Texas (34,000 jobs).

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The industry's gains recently are starkly different from where it was at in the years following the Great Recession, when it struggled to recover.

Many construction workers left the workforce during the downturn, and instead of returning, entered other industries or retired. This left a significant dearth of available workers, which was compounded by fewer young people entering the field and training programs.

Job gains in recent years, then, have been part of the recovery process, and there is still a ways to go. Construction projects across Tampa Bay and the state, such as Duke Energy Florida's natural gas plant in Citrus County, have pulled workers from all corners of Florida and outside the state to fill positions.

But contractors are beginning to feel optimistic about future staffing needs. The Associated Builders and Contractors' latest confidence index, released April 18, said 57 percent of commercial contractors surveyed expect a small uptick in staffing levels for 2018.

The only sector to lose jobs in the past 12 months was information, which includes media outlets. Information lost 1,700 jobs over the year, including 500 this month.

The three leading sectors' job growth over the year did not reflect heavily in the Sunshine State's modest over-the-month gains, as it added 13,800 jobs in March.

Among Florida metros, Tampa Bay added the second-highest number of jobs year over year — 28,700 — second to the Orlando area with 43,700 jobs over the year.

Tampa Bay's unemployment rate was 3.6 percent, unchanged from February. Hillsborough County's jobless rate fell to 3.4 percent in March from 3.5 percent in February, Hernando County's was unchanged at 4.7 percent, as was Pinellas County's at 3.4 percent and Pasco County's at 4 percent.

Nationally, the unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in March.

Contact this reporter at or (727) 892-2249. Follow @malenacarollo.