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Thursday, Mar 26, 2015

Hernando's jobless rate jumps from 7.6 to 8.4 percent


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Hernando County's unemployment rate shot up in January, the first increase in seven months.

The rate was 8.4 percent, up from 7.6 percent in December. That places Hernando County fifth highest in the state, behind Madison and Putnam counties which tied for fourth.

The state's unemployment rate was 6.3 percent and the U.S. was at 7.0 percent.

Valerie Pianta, economic development supervisor, said the increase is not steep but it is concerning given that Hernando County's rate had been declining.

She prefers to wait until the February numbers come out March 28 to see if a trend is indicated.

"I try not to get alarmed over one set of numbers," Pianta said.

David Hamilton, program manager with the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board, said the new data was surprising and indicates the overall employment picture in Hernando County is less rosy than previously believed.

"It's better than a year ago but we're not healthy," Hamilton said. "(The) 8.4 percent still means a lot of folks out there aren't working."

The new data indicates that many have stopped looking for work and taken early retirements or gone on disability, he said.

Hamilton said a fuller analysis on Hernando County unemployment will take shape after the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity releases its February 2014 numbers late next week.

Hamilton said the new numbers reflect the annual "benchmarking" process the department of economic opportunity uses to adjust the formula for counting unemployment statistics. And those adjustments show Hernando County was in worse economic shape than originally reported.

For example, the department had originally said Hernando's unemployment rate in January 2013 was 9.7 percent. It has since adjusted that to 10.3 percent.

The higher January 2014 rate will also likely change once it has been seasonally adjusted to account for such factors as changes in weather, the Christmas holiday and school schedules.

County Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said Hernando County is not alone in trying to attract new industry and create jobs to bring down the unemployment rate.

"Every county in the state is hoping to turn this around," Dukes said.

Hernando County has been especially hard hit, he said, because of the downturn in the construction industry which, for so long, propped up the local economy.

"It's really a serious impact on us that we haven't even begun to overcome," Dukes said.

County officials had been counting on a major expansion of Accuform Signs, which was scheduled to break ground this year on a new $15 million, 305,000-square-foot building that would eventually employ about 550 people, almost doubling its workforce. That would have brought coveted higher-skilled, higher-paying jobs to Hernando County, they said.

But Accuform CEO Wayne Johnson announced last month that financial reasons prompted him to shelve plans for that expansion. The company is instead looking at other possible acquisitions.

Despite the setback, Dukes believes Accuform will eventually expand here and that County Administrator/Economic Development Manager Len Sossamon will be successful in luring new industry here.

But that won't do much for the unemployment rate in the short term, Dukes said.

"It takes awhile," he said.

For January, Monroe County had the state's lowest unemployment rate (3.8 percent), followed by Walton County (4.2 percent); Alachua and Okaloosa counties (5.0 percent each); and St. Johns County (5.1 percent).

Hendry County had the highest unemployment rate (9.8 percent), followed by Flagler County (9.3 percent); Hamilton County (9.1 percent); and Madison and Putnam counties (8.5 percent each).

Hendry's high rate was mainly due to long-term job losses in government employment.

Pasco County's unemployment rate in January rose from 6.8 percent in December to 7.2 in January. Citrus saw its rate rise from 7.0 to 7.5. Pinellas and Hillsborough counties' January rates were 6.3 percent and 6.2 percent, an increase from 5.8 for both counties in December.

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