MANATEE -- The holidays offered an early gift for Florida's governor as retailers hired seasonal workers, bringing unemployment numbers down across the state.
Manatee County's unemployment rate fell to 6.6 percent in October, while Sarasota County's rate hit 6.4 percent.
In October, retail trade added more jobs over the year -- about 2,100 for a 5.7 percent year-over-year increase -- than any other industries in Manatee and Sarasota counties. Food and beverage stores did the most retail hiring for a 7.5 percent increase in employment for that sector alone as they were getting ready for the season, according to state unemployment numbers released Friday.
Bealls Inc. has been gearing up for the holidays since late September, adding to higher employment across the region reflected in October's figures.
Bill Webster, director of public and government affairs at Bealls, said the retailer began ramping up in the distribution center and across some of the stores in September and continued through October.
"We bring people in on the store floors in October so they will have time to get used to everything and will
be trained for Thanksgiving night," Webster said.
This is the first year Bealls will be open on Thanksgiving, beginning at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night, and it will stay open until 11 p.m. Black Friday. Webster said he was a little worried they might not get enough employees to cover the holiday, but was pleasantly surprised when they got more than enough volunteers.
Opening on Thanksgiving is "something new, something we have not done before," Webster said. "We took volunteers, and got a tremendous response."
Sally Hill, communications director for Suncoast Workforce, said it is no surprise unemployment fell here in October as businesses ramp up for season.
And there is good news beyond the retail and restaurant numbers, she said. Other factors, such as manufacturing and construction, are driving down unemployment year over year.
Construction will continue to drive unemployment numbers in the coming year, Hill said, with work on the Mall at University Town Center continuing for the next 11 months; then retailers and restaurants at the mall will begin hiring next summer and fall.
Last year, stores like Marshalls and Hobby Lobby brought jobs to the area as Florida's economy began healing.
"We absolutely saw more restaurants and retailers open last year," Hill said. "We'll see that again this year."
Manatee and Sarasota are not just looking at service economy jobs in the coming year.
"We're seeing more high-wage, high-skilled jobs being posted," Hill said.
"We're seeing new companies and other companies being expanded. And we're seeing some really good jobs in the area."
Of note, Hill said, the Manatee County School board began posting a lot of jobs last month, "everything from an attorney to substitute teachers," Hill said.
Other major companies are posting jobs with Suncoast Workforce, including Star2Star, a communications company that has 10 openings listed, and Dentsply, a dental supplies manufacturing company.
"There are just some good jobs out there right now," Hill said. The jobs range in pay from $16,000 to above $100,000, with a number of jobs in the $40,000-plus range.
The only bleak spot in the local employment report for October was in the financial sector, which lost the most jobs, 500, for a 3.5 percent decline in employment in that sector.
About 200 federal workers living in Manatee and Sarasota counties were not working as a result of the temporary government shutdown in parts of September and October.
Education and health services stalled in hiring in September to October, although it has been growing for most of the year, experiencing a 1.6 percent increase in employment year over year -- largely because of hiring in the healthcare sector, with hospitals adding 400 jobs and ambulatory health care services adding another 500 jobs throughout the year.
Statewide, Florida's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate inched down from 6.8 percent in September to 6.7 percent in October.
The decline came thanks to a slight increase in employment but also a decline in job seekers. Still, payroll growth looked strong. The state added 182,000 payroll positions, and the 2.5 percent job growth was the strongest since June 2006.
The jobs report includes September figures, which were delayed due to the partial shutdown of the federal government in early October.
Toni Whitt, business editor, can be reached at 941-745-7087. Follow her on twitter @toniTwhitt.