Local job picture is gloomy in Florida

Weaknesses in housing market and manufacturing weigh on region's economy

STAFF REPORT,, Aug. 18, 2007

You would have to go back, way back -- past the 2004 hurricanes, past 9/11, past the first election of George W. Bush to the presidency, even before the election of the first George Bush -- to find out when this last happened.

Unemployment across Manatee, Sarasota and Charlotte counties is worse than the state average.

It seems a sure sign that the impact of the suffering housing market and recent layoffs at some of Southwest Florida's manufacturing companies is making itself known at the unemployment office.

According to statistics released Friday by the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, Charlotte County had the region's highest rate at 5.5 percent and the ninth-highest rate in Florida last month. Its rate was up 0.8 percentage points from June and 1.7 percentage points from this time last year.

Sarasota County's unemployment rate was 4.4 percent -- the second-highest in the region -- and up 0.6 percentage points from last month and 1.2 percentage points from July 2006.

Manatee County had a rate of 4.2 percent, 0.5 percentage points higher than last month and up a full percentage point from this time last year.

Meanwhile, Florida's seasonally adjusted total rose from 3.5 percent in June to 3.9 percent in July. That still placed the Sunshine State as the lowest of the 10 most populous states.

The national unemployment rate was 4.6 percent.

"For a number of months, declines in the construction industry have had an effect on Florida's job market," said Monesia T. Brown, director of the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation. "National markets, in addition to Florida, are feeling the impacts of declines in construction, tightening financial markets and higher gas prices."

Florida's annual job growth rate reflected a slight increase in July. The state's 1.6 percent job growth was higher than the national rate of 1.4 percent.

The state is now ranked third in job growth among the nation's 10 most populous states, behind Texas and California.

From July 2006 through last month, job growth was led by education and health services, which gained 38,100 jobs. The state has had 59 straight months of growth.

Charlotte had the ninth highest unemployment rate among Florida's 67 counties; Sarasota was No. 28; and Manatee was No. 37.

The highest unemployment rate was in Hendry County, southeast of Charlotte County near Lake Okeechobee, at 9.9 percent, while the lowest was in Walton County, in the Florida Panhandle, at 2.4 percent.

Traditionally, the job market in Charlotte, Manatee and Sarasota counties has shown low unemployment relative to the rest of Florida because of the region's tourism and service industries.

But layoffs in recent months in the region's manufacturing industry have compounded continuing job losses in the home building and real estate sector.

Manatee County's CFI Manufacturing-Carter Grandle Furniture, for example, cut 100 employees at the beginning of the year after filing for bankruptcy protection.

Wellcraft Marine, also in Manatee, has trimmed 70 jobs; Honeywell International is cutting 125 manufacturing jobs from its Sarasota County plant; and Cooper Industries is closing its WPI Interconnect Products plant in Manatee County, cutting 99 workers.

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