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Manatee's jobless number drops

SARASOTA — Clarence Mitchell arrived at the Suncoast Career Expo on Friday dressed in a suit and armed with a briefcase full of resumes and cover letters.

He represents some of the 18,787 people still out of work in Manatee County, part of the 12.9 percent unemployed, according to March labor statistics released Friday.

The Manatee County resident hoped one of the 79 employers inside the Sarasota Bradenton International Convention Center would put him back into the workforce.

“I’m hoping to get a job, getting back to work and getting my life back,” said Mitchell, who lost his job in January 2009.

Manatee County saw slight relief in unemployment in March after the 13.3 percent record-breaking rate in February. Sarasota County saw its unemployment rate drop to 12.5 percent in March, from 13.1 percent in February.

Despite a small decrease in unemployment rates for Manatee and Sarasota counties, Florida’s unemployment rate increased to 12.3 percent from 12.2 percent in February.

State economists estimated Florida’s unemployment rate would peak at 12.3 percent in the third quarter of 2010 before steadily decreasing.

“We have reached the peak rate,” said Rebecca Rust, chief economist for the Agency for Workforce Innovation. “It is possible we can even exceed that rate. Employment rates do continue to increase as the economy starts to improve because as job seekers’ confidence improves, they return to the market.”

Mitchell worked at Long Term Care of St. Petersburg, and is closing in on the end of his unemployment compensation benefits, which will expire in May.

“I’ll take anything,” Mitchell said. “I’m suitable for anything.”

Hundreds of job seekers poured into the Suncoast Career Expo between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday.

As far as Bradenton resident Nancy Thompson sees it the data released Friday is hardly any improvement.

“It’s been brutal,” Thompson said of her job search. “I’ve been out of work over a year. Eighty-one dollars a week (in unemployment compensation) doesn’t cover it as far as I’m concerned.”

Thompson was in search of a job in child care after losing her job at a private daycare in March 2009.

Sally Hill, spokeswoman for the Suncoast Workforce Board, estimated about 2,500 job seekers turned out for the Suncoast Career Expo.

Vengroff, Williams & Associates Inc. was one of several local employers on hand looking to fill positions it has open. The debt collection firm based in Sarasota was hiring for accounts receivable professionals and collection specialists.

“We’re finding some really good applicants today ready to take on a strong position in the company,” said Cathy Henderson, human resource generalist for Vengroff, Williams & Associates.

Teakdecking Systems, a Manatee County manufacturer of decks and interior flooring for yachts, came to the career expo in search of installers, carpenters and accountants, said Harold Taylor, human resources manager.

“I expect we’ll see some good quality people out here today since unemployment is so high,” he said.