NAPLES — The holidays brought the gift of a job to thousands of workers in Lee and Collier counties.
In December, the two counties each added 1,600 jobs during the month, pushing unemployment down further in the region.
Lee’s jobless rate fell to 8 percent last month, down from 8.3 percent in November, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Meanwhile, Collier’s unemployment dropped to 7.3 percent in December, down from 7.8 percent a month earlier.
Jobless rates in the two counties haven’t been this low since June 2008.
A year ago, Collier had unemployment of 9 percent and Lee’s rate stood at 10.2 percent.
The addition of 3,200 jobs last month came after employers in the two counties created nearly 8,000 in November, as the busy season got kick-started in a way it hasn’t in years with an improving economy in Southwest Florida.
“We are seeing upticks in construction. We are seeing upticks in banking. I believe health care speaks for itself. It continues to be fast-growing across the country. Those are good signs,” said Dave Dart, managing partner of Morisey-Dart Group, a Naples-based executive recruitment firm and MRINetwork affiliate.
In those three industries, it’s not just big companies that are hiring. It’s companies of all sizes, he said.
“Those are full-time jobs and they are permanent. Those are not seasonal jobs,” Dart said.
However, he said, it still will be a long time before the unemployment rate gets back to a more normal rate of 6 percent or less in Southwest Florida.
“The trend is heading in the right direction and we are seeing the right kind of jobs being created,” Dart said.
Naples-Marco Island and Cape Coral-Fort Myers were among 12 of the state’s 22 metro areas with year-to-year job gains in December. In Lee, there was a boost of 700 jobs during the year, while Collier grew 2,800 during the year.
The areas with the largest gains were Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, with 21,000 more jobs over the year and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford with 18,900. Jacksonville came in third, adding 5,300 jobs during the year.
Statewide, unemployment fell to its lowest rate in more than four years — 8 percent. It hasn’t been that low since November 2008, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. Florida’s jobless rate also edged closer in December to the nation’s, which bumped up to 7.8 percent last month.
Now, there are 749,000 Floridians out of work, with nearly 7.4 million residents working in non-agricultural jobs. Over the year, jobs were up 54,900, seasonally adjusted, according to state officials.
In a statement, Gov. Rick Scott said the state is experiencing growth in many areas that are key to job creation.
“Housing starts are on the rise, businesses and families continue to move to Florida and more jobs are being created,” he said. “The changes we are making to improve our state’s business climate are helping Florida families pursue the American dream.”
December marked the 29th straight month with annual job growth after the state shed jobs for three years. Florida’s leisure and hospitality industry added the most jobs, 29,900 over the year, up 3.1 percent.
“The Florida tourism industry has seen more than 30 straight months of job growth in the hospitality sector, as well as record increases in visitation and visitor spending,” said Will Seccombe, president and CEO of Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing agency, in a statement. “Thanks to the continued support of Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature, Visit Florida and our industry partners’ efforts to successfully market the Sunshine State have resulted in good-paying, career-developing jobs for more than one million Floridians.”
Other industries with over-the-year gains are trade, transportation and utilities, adding 22,200 jobs; professional and business services, creating 18,100 jobs, and private education and health services, growing 13,200 jobs.
The industry losing the most jobs over the year was government, cutting 10,600. That was followed by construction, down 6,800 jobs.
Since December 2010, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen 3.1 percentage points, one of the largest drops in the nation.
“Many of the economic indicators in Florida point toward growth, including increased tourism and international trade, bringing a higher volume of freight coming through Florida ports,” said Doug Wheeler, president of the Florida Ports Council, in a statement. “Gov. Scott’s focus on invigorating Florida’s economy is resulting in more jobs for Florida families and a better trained workforce for Florida companies.”
Jobless rates continue to fall in Lee and Collier counties.
In Collier, unemployment dropped to 7.3 percent in December, down from 7.8 percent in November. In Lee, it fell to 8 percent last month, down from 8.3 percent a month earlier.
A year ago, Collier's rate stood at 9 percent and Lee's was 10.2 percent.
Florida labor officials said Friday that the state's unemployment rate dipped to 8 percent in December, an improvement of one-tenth of a percentage point from November's 8.1 percent figure.
Florida unemployment now stands at its lowest level since it was at 7.8 percent in November 2008. The state's unemployment rate fell below 10 percent for the first time in nearly three years in December 2011 and has continued to slowly improve since although 749,000 workers remain jobless.
Gov. Rick Scott, who has staked his re-election chances on creating jobs, said Friday the figures show the state is headed in the right direction.
Improving home sales, rising home values and a resilient stock market have buoyed improving consumer confidence in Florida in recent months.
The nation's unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in December.