MANATEE -- More people in Manatee County had jobs in December compared to a year ago, according to the latest jobs numbers released Friday, but job experts will have to wait until March to see if the report was too good to be true.
Manatee County's unemployment stood at 5.8 percent for December, down from 7.7 percent in December 2012, according to Suncoast Workforce, the Sarasota-Manatee jobs agency. The rate is a tad better than the state rate of 5.9 percent and higher than Sarasota County's 5.6 percent. The numbers are not seasonally adjusted.
The state will release a benchmark report in March to analyze the job numbers and also see how many jobs were retained in January from December, when employers, especially retailers, hire seasonal workers, said Sally Hill, spokeswoman for Suncoast Workforce.
"I'm going to be curious if it's going to dip back down," Hill said. "Typically it does, but we came out of such a deep recession, that I'm hoping businesses have good caution and are hiring, and hoping that they're hiring for more than a seasonal position."
The December rate is also an improvement over November, which saw a 6.3 unemployment rate.
The region gained 6,200 jobs during 2013, led by trade, transportation and utilities with 2,700 jobs, then 1,400 manufacturing jobs. The added manufacturing jobs represent a 9.9 percent growth, the highest in the region. Hospitality jobs were also up by 600 jobs.
"What we're seeing with the businesses that are working with us is that a lot of those positions are very high-skill positions -- engineer positions that require certain certifications and degrees," Hill said. "It's good to see the types of positions that we're receiving from local business are entry level, but we have a lot of higher level, really well-paying jobs."
Some employers are still having a tough time finding qualified applicants.
"If you talk to a healthcare professional -- which they always seem to need nurses, LPNs, billing coders and trying to fill occupations that are related -- they are having difficulty filling those positions," Hill said.
One such company, Health Management Associates in Sarasota, has used Suncoast Workforce's job fair, training and screening services to find area applicants, many of whom are from Manatee County. The hospital chain's billing operations is expanding, and will hire 150 people this year.
A recent on-site testing of 90 job applicants yielded 45 finalists for jobs there, and 30 were hired, Hill said.
Education and health services lost 300 jobs, which is the only major industry that lost jobs last year. The Department of Economic Opportunity explained that the loss is because of a larger over-the-month gain last year of 500 jobs compared to gaining 100 jobs this year.
"It is not possible to pinpoint an exact reason for industries not gaining jobs or losing jobs over the year," according to a DEO spokesman. "The survey does not ask why there is a change; it only collects the employment number."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.