State report: Collier, Lee added nearly 8,000 jobs in past month

Jobs graphic.

Jobs graphic.

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— Employers in Lee and Collier counties added nearly 8,000 jobs in a month, as the busy season got kick-started in a way it hasn't in years.

From October to November, Naples-Marco Island saw 4,100 jobs created. Meanwhile, in Cape Coral-Fort Myers, jobs grew by 3,800 during the month, according a report released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The last few years, local employers have hesitated with seasonal hiring, often waiting until after the first of the year to add many of their workers for the busiest months of the year. But with the outlook more positive because of an improving economy, many businesses hired earlier this season, said Jim Wall, communications director for Southwest Florida Works, which connects employers with job-seekers.

"It's almost a little bit like days past, where business didn't want to wait until the last minute," he said. "They wanted to get some of the best employees and get them on a little sooner and trained so they're geared up and well-trained before the season hits."

In Southwest Florida, season doesn't just mean the holidays and it doesn't last a month or two. The busy season traditionally runs from November to April, bringing in droves of tourists and winter residents.

Seasonal hiring can go into April, with some of the best workers ending up keeping their jobs year-round, Wall said.

In the boom years, employers would recruit workers as early as August, he recalls.

"This is the first year where we've seen some early movement in hiring again since the recession hit," Wall said.

Tourism continues to strengthen in Southwest Florida, a big reason for more optimism among employers and for more hiring.

While Cape Coral-Fort Myers added jobs in November, it lost 600 when compared with November 2011. Naples-Marco Island, however, added 2,800 jobs year-over year, for a 2.4 percent increase.

With more hiring, jobless rates continued to fall in the region.

Collier's unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent in November, down from 8.5 percent in October and 9.6 percent a year ago. The last time it was that low was in May, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

"That's still high, but the reduction that we saw between October and November was very good. It was nice seeing it come down below 8 percent. That was a good sign," said Gary Jackson, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero.

Meanwhile, Lee's unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in November, down from 8.5 percent in October and 10.5 percent a year ago. It hasn't been that low since June 2008, when it stood at 7.9 percent, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Gov. Rick Scott highlighted several metro areas Friday, including Cape Coral-Fort Myers, for November's unemployment drop. The area saw the third-largest drop among all metros since December 2010. Two years ago, unemployment was nearly 12 percent.

Gov. Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott

"In communities all throughout Florida, families are finding new job opportunities," he said in a statement. "Since 2010, the private sector has created more than 200,000 private sector jobs, Florida's housing market is improving, and unemployment is down."

In Southwest Florida, hiring is starting to get a boost from the construction industry, with the housing market turning around and foreclosures slowing.

In October, new home starts in Cape Coral-Fort Myers alone rose 20.7 percent over the prior month and increased more than 65 percent compared with a year ago.

Scott pointed to a Manpower Employment Outlook Survey for the first quarter of next year that shows Cape Coral-Fort Myers is expected to be the strongest job market in the nation, with 27 percent of employers saying they plan to add workers.

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"We are probably one of the fastest-growing areas in the country and we are rebounding from being one of the hardest-hit areas in the country," said Barbara Hartman, communications director for the One Stop Center for Southwest Florida Works in Fort Myers. "Most industry sectors in Lee County are showing positive growth."

The retail and tourism sectors are leading the way, she said.

Compared with November 2011, the number of workers collecting unemployment checks dropped by 6,385 in Lee County. In Collier, the number fell by 2,558.

In Collier, there were 11,941 jobless residents in November; Lee had 23,372.

Statewide, unemployment dropped to 8.1 percent last month, the lowest rate since November 2008, when it stood at 7.8 percent. There were 760,000 jobless Floridians out of a labor force of 9,343,000.

Florida continued to close in on the national jobless rate, which fell 0.2 points to 7.7 percent last month.

In his statement, Scott said the improving numbers reflect a continued resurgence in Florida's economy, which showed signs of strength across many sectors.

"For many of Florida's families during this holiday season, there could be no greater gift than a regular paycheck," he said. "Florida's economy continues to improve as evidenced by the more than 24,000 Floridians that filled private-sector jobs created in November."

__ The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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