Job stats remain steady while businesses navigate a competitive market

File photo: Construction workers build a large block wall. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted December 24, 2021 | By James Blevins

In this file photo, construction workers build a large block wall for the new Publix at Pearl Britain Plaza on Northeast 35th Street in Ocala in this file photo. Construction jobs are one of the leading industries for job growth in Marion County. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) released its employment figures for November last Friday on Dec. 17. The report revealed that Marion County had a jobless rate of 4.2%, a decrease of 0.4 percentage point from October, illustrating an overall slow-and-steady progression in the region.

Though higher than the national and state rates—3.9% and 3.6% respectively—and ranking 12th highest out of 67 counties—Marion County’s labor force contracted by 433 to 145,600, while the number of those with jobs increased by 173 to 139,492. The number of unemployed dropped by 606 to 6,108.

Compared to the same time last year, when the jobless rate was 4.6%, the labor force grew by 6,151 and the number of employed increased by 6,445.

For CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion CEO Thomas Skinner, the numbers were something of a mixed bag, but suggested growth as the economy slowly bounces back from the worst surges of a nearly two-year pandemic.

“We have growth in employment. We’ve seen reductions in the number of unemployed people. We have some movement in our labor force,” said Skinner via phone on Dec. 17. “I think everything speaks to a very solid, positive movement in our economy.”

The nonagricultural employment in the Ocala metropolitan statistical area, which covers all of Marion County, was 110,900 in November, an increase of 2,100 jobs over the year for a 1.9% annual growth rate.

Of the three regions—Levy, Citrus and Marion—the Ocala MSA had the fastest annual job growth rate in manufacturing at 7.2%. Statewide in 2021, Ocala also had the fastest annual job growth rate in manufacturing at 8.3%.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 4.5% in November, down 0.1 percentage point from the October rate, and down 0.9 percentage point from a year ago, according to the DEO report. Florida’s non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate—a measure that matches the way local rates are calculated—was 3.6%, a decrease of 0.4 percentage point over the month and 1.4% lower than November 2020.

There was 483,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 10,632,000. The state also added 485,600 jobs or 5.7% since November of 2020.

In November, Ocala had a Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and Metropolitan Divisions (MDs) unemployment rate of 4.2%, which is ranked 5th in the state behind The Villages (5.0%), Homosassa Springs (4.9%), Sebring (4.9%) and Lakeland-Winter Haven (4.4%).

Skinner said that while many may speculate that government benefits are the cause of some people not returning to work, the data shows something different.

“I think COVID has just really changed the workplace and the patience of workers,” he said. “It became a much slower, family-centered pace of life, and a number of people find that positive.”

He also listed critical factors regarding returning to work or leaving work and not returning to include early retirement, access to and ability to pay for childcare, looking for better paying jobs and family lifestyle adjustments for second family earners.

Rondo Fernandez, owner of Mojo’s Grill and Catering in Ocala, said that his major concern right now is losing possible new hires to competing businesses who pay more the current restaurant standard.

“Everybody wants to come and join the new place,” said Fernandez. “And it kind of hurts us. But who wants to work in a hot kitchen when they can go and have an easy job somewhere else?”

In this file photo, a worker with Sema Construction grades the Northeast 36th Avenue overpass on July 6, 2020. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Currently, Fernandez admitted that he’s not experiencing much turnover, which he said is great, but getting new folks into his business is still important and challenging in the current jobs market.

“We’re always coming up with ideas to help retain employees,” he added. “Whether it’s more money or better culture. But it’s tough to match some of the pay. Some of these new places…not just restaurants…places like Chewy’s and Auto Zone come in with [hourly rates] in the high teens. For us to match that, we’d have to sell a $20 burger.”

At Cone Distribution, Director of Human Resources Jonathan Jarrell said that they were better insulated from the worst of the unemployment issues over the last year and a half due to strong referral practices.

“I think for the most part we’re doing well,” said Jarrell. “We do see a little bit of struggle. But our method’s a little different [then other businesses]. We kind of deputize all of our people to find people to work for us.”

New data shows that while Florida’s industries are recovering with state leaders emphasizing leisure and hospitality industries adding 26,600 new jobs—and trade, transportation and utilities industries adding 19,200 new jobs—other economic data reported a 6.4% drop in employment for leisure and hospitality, nationally.

Skinner hopes that Marion County finds a positive formula to bring more people back into the workforce in these key areas.

“I think that’s something we’re always going to be working on for the next year,” he said. “How do you respond to the growth in the demand for employees here in the county? That’s the big question as we go into 2022. What are businesses going to do to bring workers back into their companies? There’s a bunch of different answers out there.”

The region’s preliminary employment summary for December will be released on Friday, January 21, 2022.

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