NAPLES — As Floridians enter the New Year under the weight of double-digit unemployment numbers, hiring forecasts offer guarded hope for an economic turnaround.
Michael Timmerman, a senior associate for Fishkind & Associates, an economic consulting firm with an office in Naples, said a few factors are merging to create a slight but positive jobs outlook in 2011.
These factors, Timmerman said, include slight population growth, a strong tourist season for retail, declines in the real estate inventory and the recently extended tax cuts and jobless benefits.
“All those things will add to jobs,” Timmerman said. “It’s still a slow rate. We’re still moving ourselves out of this recession. But we’re moving in the right direction.”
A Manpower survey of employers in the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metropolitan area showed that 18 percent of employers planned to hire in the first quarter. The survey also showed 11 percent planned to cut positions, bringing the net gain to 7 percent.
Some of the biggest gains are expected in transportation, retail, hospitality and health services with government and construction expected to trim staffing. Naples was not broken down in the survey.
Connie Byrne, a recruiting supervisor for Arthrex, an orthopedic products and medical education company based in North Naples, said her company plans to expand its work force in 2011.
“We have 954 employees in Collier County,” Byrne said. “By the end of our fiscal year, which is in June, we plan to have over 1,000 employees.
“We will be hiring a lot of hourly positions in the manufacturing facility,” Byrne said. “We will also be adding corporate positions that range from entry level to senior level mangers and we will be adding positions in the IT department. We really try to remain current with technology.”
Marci Seamples, vice president of communications for the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, said she’s optimistic for 2011.
“Overall it seems that our members seem a lot more positive than this time last year,” Seamples said. “It’s not where it was before. But it’s more positive nonetheless.”
NCH Healthcare System, a Goliath of an employer in Southwest Florida with 3,900 employees among 15 locations, hired 180 nurses, physical therapists and other patient care specialists to work the winter season, said Brian Settle, chief human resources officer for the company.
“We’re staffed very well for season,” Settle said.
While Settle said the company does not plan on expanding its work force in 2011, he said it does plan on hiring between 350 and 500 people to fill vacant positions as they arise.
Some 13,000 people applied for jobs with NCH Healthcare System in 2009, and 400 people were hired, Settle said.
“There are a lot of people looking for work,” he said.
Publix supermarkets has 19 locations and 2,400 employees in Collier County and 33 locations and 4,000 employees in Lee County. But the company has already reached its manpower needs to handle increased winter business.
Shannon Patten, a spokeswoman for Publix, said that the company hired 450 temporary seasonal employees at the end of October. Those employees can expect to keep their jobs through April, Patten said.
“Right now we are pretty well-staffed,” Patten said. “But we are always accepting applications.”
Collier County Public Schools, with a mandate to shrink its class sizes, plans to hire 500 teachers by August, said David Glennon, staffing director for the school district.
About 200 of those vacancies are through normal attrition, but the other 300 is to help us meet the class-size reduction amendment, Glennon said, adding that high school teachers in English, math, science and reading and middle school instructors who can teach multiple subjects are in demand.
Florida voters earlier in the last decade passed an amendment to limit class sizes and recently rejected a move to make those class sizes more flexible.
“There was a time when we were opening many schools. We’re not in that situation now,” Glennon said. “We have to comply with the constitutional amendment.”
The school district’s push to hire more teachers is the one bright spot in the public sector, with Collier County government still enforcing a hiring freeze that has been in place since 2007. And Lee County, still saddled with budget shortfalls for the coming years, has with no plans to hire unless absolutely necessary, officials said.
“I think it’s safe to say that the county lags about 18 months behind a private sector recovery, so we’re still looking at making appropriate cuts,” said Holly Schwartz, assistant county manager in Lee County.
Jim Moore, Lee County’s Economic Development director, said that lag time is indicative of agencies that respond to public needs rather than proactive growth.
“Let’s just say the traffic count on roads begins to increase, then the road building program begins again, and there’s more use of the libraries and ballparks,” Moore said.
Government’s slow recovery will be exacerbated by its reliance on property taxes, which is calculated based on year-old assessed values, Moore said. So even as property values recover, governments will not see increased revenues right away, he said.
Statewide, some 117,600 more jobs are expected in non-agricultural employment through 2011, according to the Florida Economic Estimating Conference held in November.