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Business Outlook 2006

Workforce keeps up with growing population

Unemployment fell from 2004 to 2005. But job creation is still needed, as evidenced by the high numbers of commuters.

Published February 19, 2006

With Hernando County's population now topping 150,000 - and many more to come, judging by all of the homes under construction - are jobs keeping pace? Pretty much, say two officials who crunch the employment numbers.

As of July, the most recent month for which data has been released, 38,132 people were at work in Hernando County, said David Hamilton, director of operations for the Pasco-Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership Regional Board.

That's an increase of 2,750 compared to 35,382 jobs in 2004.

But Hamilton said the size of the workforce in the area has grown by nearly 7,000 over the past 21/2 years.

Still, unemployment is dipping here, although not quite as much as elsewhere in Florida, Hamilton said. He hastened to point out: "We have less unemployment than we did two years ago."

Last November, 4.4 percent of the Hernando labor force was unemployed, compared to 3.5 percent statewide. But Hernando's rate a year earlier sat at 5.6 percent, so a significant reduction was achieved.

In 2005, unemployment in Hernando was highest in February at 5.7 percent and was at its best in October at 4.2 percent.

A significant percentage of Hernando residents continue to commute outside the county for work - most of them to Pasco.

"I would guess, based on our growth and based on that we now have the (Suncoast) Parkway, the number living here and working somewhere else will increase," Hamilton said.

Mike McHugh, director of the Hernando County Office of Business Development, said, "I think it's close to 40 to 50 percent who are commuting."

On the other hand, McHugh said some 3,000 to 5,000 workers are commuting from nearby counties into Hernando for jobs.

"Job creation is still needed here," he said. "Jobs being close to home is the key. Our job is to provide people with a job close to home.

McHugh's office did a lot toward that end in 2005, helping to bring in 11 new businesses which built new facilities, mainly for much-sought-after manufacturing; his office also assisted two existing businesses with expansion projects. The endeavors created 316 jobs.

At least two other fields of employment are looking for workers, Hamilton and McHugh said.

Trained health care assistants and construction workers already make up a big employment share, but continue in greatest demand.

"The health care industry, it is one of those areas we really need employees. This is skilled medical care," Hamilton said.

Labor market statistics provided in January by the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation pegged medical assistants as the No. 1 field for projected growth in the state through 2012.

Medical records and health information technicians ranked third, and home health aides fourth.

With the retiring population of baby boomers, Hamilton noted, "you absolutely know they are going to require more health care."

So, employment opportunities should remain strong in that field for job seekers with postsecondary vocational/technical and computer training, he said.

Construction workers are in such high demand, Hamilton said, that a statewide initiative, Florida Rebuilds, has been launched by the industry to attract workers to the building trades.

Contractors are hiring even the unskilled, willing to teach them on-site.

"I don't know how long the (building) boom will be (in Hernando)," he said, "but right now and for the foreseeable future, as a citizen looking at what's going to the County Commission and the planning and zoning board, there's more going than what we've already got started."

If the wide-open fields aren't attractive to the job seeker, Hamilton notes multiple sources of job leads.

Career Central, the partnership's Hernando headquarters on Forest Oaks Boulevard in Spring Hill, lists employment opportunities and has Internet access to more. Its services are free.

"Many jobs are listed in newspapers," Hamilton pointed out.

Those two sources account for 40 percent of job leads, he said.

"There's also networking," he said. "Neighbor, social club and house of worship. They are the eyes and ears of the community."

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]

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