Special Reports

Florida to continue job struggles into 2011

BRADENTON -- There was a time Florida’s unemployment rate was 3.3 percent.

That was May 2006.

Now it sits at 12 percent, and state economists say it won’t drop below 6 percent until 2019.

Manatee County job seekers say the situation they’re in is disheartening. The county has a 12.6 percent unemployment rate through November, representing 18,267 people in need of work.

“It’s frustrating, very frustrating,” said Derrick Evans, a 56-year-old Bradenton resident who was laid off two years ago as a state inspector for the Department of Agriculture.

Among the biggest issues job-seekers will continue to face in 2011 will be mismatched skill sets, the lack of available jobs and the low worker mobility between locations because of the housing market.

“Because of these longer spells of unemployment, it makes it more difficult for workers to find a job,” Rebecca Rust, chief economist for the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, said during a recent conference call to discuss the state’s latest labor statistics. “And again the outlook shows that unemployment rates are expected to remain relatively high.”

State officials held their most recent quarterly Economic Estimating Conference on Nov. 22, projecting Florida’s unemployment rate will average 11.8 percent in the fourth quarter of 2010 and first quarter of 2011 before decreasing to 11 percent by the end of 2011.

While the state doesn’t report county-by-county unemployment projections, it’s likely Manatee County’s recovery will be about the same or higher.

Manatee has maintained a higher unemployment rate than the state’s since June 2007 when the area had a 4.1 percent jobless rate and Florida’s was 4.2 percent.

“As far as working down from high levels of unemployment, it’s going to take the state many years to get back,” said economist Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida.

He estimates Florida’s unemployment rate may not drop below 6 percent until 2020.

The inflated unemployment rate will be due to slow year-over-year growth in job creation. The Institute for Economic Competitiveness on Tuesday published its economic forecast for 2011-13, estimating payroll job growth will increase by 1.9 percent in 2011, and will move up 3.3 percent in 2012.

In Manatee County, several employers have significant plans to increase their payroll as 25 businesses who approved for performance-based incentives are expected to create 1,719 jobs over the next three to five years.

The projection, however, pales in comparison to the 18,000 Manatee County residents who need work, thus presenting what remains one of the biggest setbacks for economic recovery.

“More job-seekers are seeking not enough job openings,” Rust said. “We still have more unemployed people than job openings.”

Only 218,000 openings

Florida has 1.1 million who are jobless and the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation estimates there are about 218,000 job openings statewide.

Due to the competition, Natural Prosthetic Dental Lab knows it will see an overabundance of resumes when it begins advertising for the some of the 283 jobs it plans to create over the next five years.

Eric Grimes, chief operating officer for Natural Prosthetic Dental Lab, said the Bradenton company will begin hiring 40 to 70 employees between the first and second quarter of 2011.

“I don’t think it will take very long to fill those job openings given the market,” Grimes said.

Company adding jobs

Mustang Vacuum Systems LLC, another local company ramping up operations over the next few years, expects it will create 125 jobs over the next 12 months.

The Bradenton manufacturer of machines that make solar cell equipment expects to hire about 10 employees in the first quarter. As it continues to phase in jobs, it will include positions for welders, fabricators, assemblers and mechanical engineers.

“We know there’s going to be a lot of candidates for these positions,” said Richard Greenwell, president of Mustang Vacuum Systems.

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