Area's low jobless rate best in Florida

Published: Saturday, January 20, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 19, 2007 at 11:32 p.m.

The Gainesville Metropolitan Statistical Area had the lowest unemployment rate in the state in December at 2.3 percent, according to numbers released Friday by the Florida Agency of Workforce Innovation.

But there's a downside to so many people being employed: Employers are finding it increasingly difficult to fill openings. That's good news for employees who are fetching better wages as employers compete for their services.

The problem for employers is going to get worse with baby boomers increasingly reaching retirement age, portending a 10 million worker shortage nationwide by 2010, according to Angela Pate, executive director of FloridaWorks in Gainesville, an agency that matches employers with job seekers in Alachua and Bradford counties.

The problem is especially acute in the utilities industry, according to Sandy Barnard, organizational development director of Gainesville Regional Utilities. Her theory is that many utility workers started during a large nationwide utilities expansion 20 to 30 years ago.

At last count, 60 percent of management and 50 percent of skilled workers at GRU are eligible to retire in the next five years, Barnard said. The attrition has already begun, with a 20 percent increase in vacancies in 2006, most from retirements. Exacerbating the problem is that some of the skilled jobs take four to six years of training, she said.

GRU has taken matters into its own hands, conducting a free academy for young people who can graduate into paid trainee positions and continuous training thereafter. GRU has also started leadership training for potential management candidates.

Employers are advertising more, using creative methods such as posters and are using FloridaWorks services in greater numbers, said Kim Kim Tesch-Vaught, senior director of workforce for the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We are hearing from more local small businesses. They have immediate needs and are not finding quality employees through their applicants," she said.

She said employers are raising wages to lure applicants.

"We're at that point, if you're going to find an employee, you're going to have to steal them from another company," said Warren May of the Florida Agency of Workforce Innovation. "But our population is such that we always have people coming into the labor force."

Gainesville's unemployment rate of 2.3 percent was the same in December 2005 and a decrease from 2.5 percent in November. The state rate was 3.3 percent in November and December, down from 3.4 percent in December 2005. The national average for December was 4.5 percent.

The construction industry was most affected locally from month to month, down 100 jobs to 6,400 in December.

Jim Painter of Painter Masonry said the dip reflects a drop in housing construction, though not as severely as other parts of the state and nation. "I have people coming by every day looking for a job and that was not the case a year ago," he said.

He said when several developments that have been on hold start up, those 100 jobs and more will be back.

Anthony Clark can be reached at 374-5094.

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