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Florida jobless rate drops to 4.5 percent as expanding companies scramble to find more workers

Florida’s unemployment level dropped to 4.5 percent for April. Construction jobs, including those shown here at the new Johns Hopkins All Children’s Research and Education Building under way in St. Petersburg, continue to be in high demand. [Scott Keeler, Times]
Published May 20, 2017

Florida's latest employment numbers show further signs of economic recovery.

The state's unemployment fell from 4.8 percent in March to 4.5 percent in April, the lowest rate since November 2007. Nationally, unemployment was slightly lower than the Sunshine State's, coming in at 4.4 percent for April, according to figures released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Tampa Bay's overall unemployment rate shaved off 0.3 percentage points over the month to hit 3.8 percent for April.

"These kinds of declines are difficult to come by, especially when you look at what happened to the labor force," said Sean Snaith, economist at the University of Central Florida. More people in the labor force, Snaith said, makes it more difficult to hit such lower unemployment levels.

The entire Tampa Bay region saw declining unemployment in April. Hillsborough County's unemployment was 3.7 percent, down from 4 percent in March. Pinellas dropped from 3.9 to 3.6 percent, while Pasco dipped from 4.6 to 4.2 percent. Hernando also saw a drop from 5.4 percent to 5 percent.

Since March, Tampa Bay added 2,300 jobs, and a total of 33,400 since April 2016. Among the sectors with the greatest job growth in the region were professional and business services and construction.

"The Tampa area also led the state in job openings, which means there are thousands of opportunities for Floridians to find the opportunities they need to succeed in Tampa Bay," Gov. Rick Scott said in a release. "We will keep fighting to make Tampa, and our entire state, a top destination for job growth."

Given such low unemployment, one question tugs at expanding companies: Where to find qualified candidates for open positions? ReliaQuest, a Tampa-based cybersecurity company, tackles this by relying on significant training for new hires who might not have the exact skill set the company is looking for. The firm added more than a dozen new employees this past Monday.

"We allow someone that doesn't have that background but has the aptitude and some peripheral knowledge around the area to come and learn the cybersecurity space," said Brian Murphy, CEO of ReliaQuest. "That's allowed us to hire out of a larger pool."

According to Murphy, about 25 percent of new hires for ReliaQuest come from the Tampa Bay area, while the majority relocate from other areas to either Tampa or their Las Vegas location.

While this month's employment numbers are positive, UCF's Snaith said the political climate in the nation's capital is the next front to watch. Lack of progress on issues such as tax reform, he warned, could "(put) us on a slippery slope that could lead to the next recession."

Contact Malena Carollo at mcarollo@tampabay.com. Follow @malenacarollo.

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