Local unemployment rate suffers setback, but two areas of Marion County’s economy shine

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Posted August 28, 2020 | By Bill Thompson, Deputy Editor | Photos by Danielle Veenstra courtesy CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion

Ocala/Marion County’s most recent unemployment report was disappointing.

The main number went the wrong way.

According to CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion, the region’s employment and workforce agency, unemployment in Marion County ticked up in July to 9.3 percent, a full percentage point above June’s rate.

CareerSource CLM CEO Rusty Skinner said in a statement that he wasn’t surprised. It illustrated conditions associated with the persistence of the COVID-19 outbreak, coupled with historic summer employment trends.

But two bright spots shine amid the gloom.

Relative to all other major metro areas in July, Ocala posted the fastest yearly job growth rate as well as the sharpest annual job growth within the leisure and hospitality industry.

Year over year in that part of the economy, Ocala/Marion County added 300 new jobs, which translated to a growth rate of 2.3 percent.

A report released earlier this month by the U.S. Travel Association helps highlight what good news this is for Ocala/Marion County.

The group referred to the leisure and hospitality industry nationally as “the epicenter of the economic fallout” related to COVID-19. Across the country, 4.3 million workers in this industry became unemployed as the coronavirus spread, accounting for 34 percent of all jobs lost because of the virus.

Consequently, this industry could come back slower than others, because of travel restrictions, either imposed by government or reflecting the public’s fear.

“The recovery for the industry is expected to extend well into 2023,” the report predicted. “Increasing travel activity is a necessity to facilitate this recovery. The leisure and hospitality subsectors of accommodation, arts, entertainment, and recreation, and food and beverage are highly dependent on visitor spending and will require a restoration of prior levels of travel in order to contribute to a full labor market recovery.”

In early August, Loretta Shaffer, director of the county’s tourism development agency, provided a look at a “crisis recovery” plan – which, by inviting new visitors, would help the leisure/hospitality industry rebound.

Shaffer told the County Commission the campaign’s plan was to target families with children and younger adult couples, as well as travelers with a “pent-up mindset” and those who desire outdoor activities, which Marion County offers in “great abundance.”    

Meanwhile, the trade, transportation and utilities sector added 200 jobs, or a growth rate of 0.8 percent.

Compared to Florida’s other metro areas, Ocala recorded the most job growth over the past year within that economic sector, and posted the second-fastest job growth rate, CareerSource CLM reported.

Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership CEO and President Kevin Shielly said the community’s performance in those areas reflected the efforts by policymakers and business leaders to diversify the local economic base.

“Our strengths in Logistics and Manufacturing kept our local economy advancing when other areas slowed and allowed for a strong bounce back. Our tourist trade is different than most of the state and I think that played a role along with the strong business sector for leisure and hospitality,” he said in an email.

“I am optimistic as we move into fall for continued steady job creation and a lowering of the unemployment rate.”

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