LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Florida's chief economist says the fast-recovering jobs climate in Manatee and Sarasota counties is likely to see considerably more hiring in the next seven years.
Her prediction is this: While hiring for office, school, and trade and transportations jobs has been big for the past year, a greater share of the two counties' economic future lies in construction.
Speaking Thursday to about 150 business and education leaders, politicians and economic development officials at CareerSource Suncoast's annual Economic and Workforce Outlook at Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Chief Economist Rebecca Rust said her agency's analysis shows demand for construction workers growing through 2021. And even though it only accounts for about 6 percent of jobs in the two counties, manufacturing jobs are expected to be highly valued for the wages they pay and the money they bring into the area.
The latest employment numbers from DEO show the two counties to be at a combined unemployment rate of 6.5 percent in August, slightly better than the state's 6.7 percent rate and almost a full percentage point better than the same time in 2013.
From peak employment in March 2006 to the recessionary low in July 2010, the North Port-Manatee-Sarasota statistical area lost 50,400 jobs, according to DEO. About 60 percent of those jobs had been recovered as of last month.
During the past year, Rust said the North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota metropolitan statistical area has added jobs faster than any other Florida statistical area, with employment up by 9,900 jobs, or 3.9 percent. Those numbers are not adjusted for seasonal fluctuations. Statistical areas centered around Orlando and Naples came closest for job growth at 3.4 percent.
"You're at the highest level of areas in your size class," Rust said.
The largest share of those jobs, 3,300 net positions, according to the agency's statistics, were created in professional and business services. Other big gainers were the trade, transportation and utilities sector at 2,500, and education and health services at 1,900. The information sector lost 100 jobs, while local government lost 400.
But those top job-gaining industries, which employ more than 52 percent of area workers, may not be the top employers of the future. According to DEO statistics, the health care, retail, hospitality, education and financial sectors are putting the most want ads in newspapers and online. In August, health care giant HCA advertised about 225 open positions, more than any other single employer in Manatee-Sarasota. Ritz Carlton Hotels was in second place at about 155. Retailers Macy's and Sears combined for 180 advertised positions, while schools advertised about 90 jobs.
The DEO has also examined hiring trends of the past decade to predict which industries will grow the fastest between now and 2021. In specialty trade contracting, the department expects 41-percent growth in that portion of the Manatee-Sarasota workforce. General construction jobs will grow by almost 39 percent. Rounding out the top five are the furniture production and furniture retail industry, heavy and civil engineering construction, and management.
Among individual occupations, retail sales people are expected to see the most opportunity with another 5,535 jobs opening up by 2021. Nurses and nursing assistants could see another 3,600 job listings by then. Among the top 10 occupational gainers, nursing pays the most by far, with an average hourly wage of $29.30. Retail clerks and nursing assistants earn an average of about $13 per hour.
Not making any of the DOE's growth lists was the manufacturing industry, which enjoys significant support in terms of tax incentives and recruiting. However, the high wages paid to skilled workers means it is likely to continue to receive economic development assistance. The average annual wage for a manufacturing worker in Manatee County is $50,871, according to DOE data.
Sharon Hillstrom, director of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., said her organization targets the manufacturing industry for assistance partly because of its ability to connect to national and world markets.
"You need those new dollars coming into the local area to stimulate the economy," said Hillstrom who attended Thursday's CareerSource session.
Joshua Matlock, CareerSource's vice president of business and economic development, said the job sourcing organization is also heavily involved in bringing more manufacturing to Manatee and Sarasota counties. Its role is to find job candidates with the skill levels required by manufacturing plants such as the recently opened Air Products facility in Palmetto.
"It's a little more difficult sourcing candidates for those types of jobs," Matlock said.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.