Federal Reserve official talks jobs, interest rates at Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce event

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Business leaders on Thursday heard an optimistic but cautious forecast during an annual economic forum hosted by the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.

More than 200 attendees gathered at the Florida State University’s Turnbull Conference Center to hear an economic forecast from Chris Oakley, vice president and coordinating regional executive for the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s Jacksonville Branch.

The Federal Reserve operates independently, regulating financial institutions and setting monetary policy. Oakley said forecasters are comfortable with the nation’s 2 percent interest rate and job growth. However, he noted concerns from employers who struggle to find qualified candidates for vacant jobs.

“This is a big issue we all should be thinking about,” Oakley said.

However, the jobs picture remains strong at the federal, state and local level. In December, Oakley said U.S. employers added 312,000 net jobs to payrolls and an average of 220,000 job gains per month over the last 12 months.

While the national unemployment rate inched up to 3.9 percent, Oakley said he wasn’t discouraged. He said people who’d left the workforce for a variety of reasons, including an inability to find jobs, are now looking for employment again.

The size of the Tallahassee workforce was an estimated 187,000 jobs in November. Tallahassee Chamber President and CEO Sue Dick said that’s a record number of jobs for the capital city.

Dick also hears concerns from local employers who want to find qualified candidates.

“When we hear that, it keeps us focused on our initiatives,” Dick said. “Every day we’re talking to businesses that are saying we have the ability to hire and we need to hire at all levels, not just at high executive levels.”

She also said federal forecasters are looking for clarity going into 2019 to determine economic trends.