Economic forecast: Leon County lost more than 12,000 jobs in a year, but signs of a rebound

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Leon County lost 12,085 jobs in the last year as the poverty rate worsened in 2020, a report presented to the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce shows.

The grim reality was packaged among other economic indicators in a community scorecard unveiled by the Chamber during its Annual Economic Forecast. It was a broad-brush look at Leon County’s economy compared to other counties, the state, and the country in a year defined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, Leon County’s 5.2% unemployment rate and decreasing number of unemployed residents are trending in a positive direction, along with high-school graduation rates.

Year-over-year job loss and a 20.5 poverty rate, including 10,514 children living in poverty, all point to economic hardships throughout the capital city.

The color-coded scorecard is modeled after one created for every county by the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

“The most successful communities are oftentimes driven by data and metrics,” said Sue Dick, Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce president and CEO. “These communities are focused on key indicators like kindergarten readiness, high school students successfully preparing for the future career path, crime rates, poverty statistics, and ensuring that everyone in the community is able to get the job that they need and deserve.”

The Chamber hosted its annual Economic Forecast event at the Tucker Civic Center Tuesday, with limited in-person attendance and remote viewing.

Jerry Parrish, chief economist and director of research at the Florida Chamber Foundation, said one of Leon County’s immediate strengths is adopting a community scorecard.

“That will bring attention from the business people, and from everybody around to really focus on what the community needs to do to improve,” Parrish said.

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A diversified economy continues to be Leon County’s uphill battle, particularly a need for a variety of companies and manufacturing businesses.

“Higher concentrations of industries in the Tallahassee region are the ones that are going to come back the latest,” Parrish said. “Whereas, you know things like manufacturing and construction and those kinds of things are coming back the quickest.”


Recovery turnaround

The United States will be one of the leading economies to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. That said, Parrish said Florida is doing better than the U.S., and he’s forecasting a quicker rebound than the U.S. economy, respectively.

Population boom

Before the pandemic hit, Florida had roughly 900 new people per day moving into the state. Parrish said that population migration dipped to 800 per day in 2020, despite the pandemic. He projects Florida will bounce back to 900 new residents per day by next year.

By 2030, Florida is projected to have a population of 26 million people — about 45,800 going to Leon County out of the next wave of 4 million newcomers. That represents a 14.7% increase in Tallahassee’s population.

State job outlook

Florida had positive job growth in December, marking eight consecutive months of job gains.

However, all industries from Florida were down 419,200 jobs comparing December 2019 to December 2020, with the biggest hit felt in the leisure and hospitality industries.

Parrish touched on labor force changes and people disappearing from the workforce. He said people often fall into one of two categories: working or looking for a job.

In Florida, there were 276,000 fewer people in the labor force compared to the previous year. Many people, he said, dropped out of the workforce when their children couldn’t go to school.

The majority of them are women nationwide, Parrish said, adding they represent about 80% of the people that left the labor force. Or, he said, they may have left the labor force to take care of someone impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Industry hits and misses in Leon County

Leon County lags behind the state when it comes to the manufacturing and goods-producing sector, which includes construction, agriculture, and natural resources.

A 2019 report on jobs by industry shows the goods-producing sector only produced 8.4% compared to the state’s 13%. Leon County’s manufacturing industry landed at 1.8% of the total employment mix compared to the state’s 4.9%.

Parrish said communities that were down in their goods-producing industry will see a quicker turnaround this year in this area.

“The good news for Leon County is it’s coming back quicker,” he said. “I’ve got construction and manufacturing, both coming back by the second quarter of this year.”

Looking ahead, forecasters project Florida will need to create 2 million net new jobs by 2030. Leon County will need to create up to 46,550 jobs by the same timeline.

Certain sectors are projected to have significant growth in Leon County.

The healthcare sector, a targeted industry, is slated to show the largest projected growth from 2020 to 2030. Healthcare support may grow by 21%, followed by healthcare practitioners and techs by 17%.

Other high-growth sectors include transportation and material, moving production, and management.

School readiness 

At 62%, Leon County is doing better and landed at No. 9 within the top 10 counties in the state with the highest number of students ready for kindergarten.

The state-driven goal of 100% kindergarten readiness is directly tied to creating a skilled workforce for the future.

While the ranking is encouraging, it may not tell the true story. Parrish said about 30% fewer students went to kindergarten and didn’t take the readiness test.

According to the Florida Chamber Foundation, 133,632 test takers were recorded in 2020, down from 190,805 the previous year.