State economists share highs, lows of Florida and Leon County economy at annual forum

From the Tallahassee Democrat

Leon County’s low unemployment rate and steady job growth are favorable economic indicators, although like the rest of the state, there’s a significant skills gap for available and future jobs.

It’s an ongoing challenge for Florida’s workforce, state economists said Thursday during an annual economic forecast forum hosted by the Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce.

In Florida, there are roughly 283,000 open jobs and 311,000 jobseekers, said Jerry Parrish, chief economist for the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Business and economic officials continue to trumpet trade education as an alternative to the four-year college tract.

“There are people who are working that could, with a little skill enhancement, get those higher paying jobs that are open right now,” Parrish said. “Employers are calling me and saying, ‘Hey, we’re running out of people. We can’t hire enough people.”

The forum, attended by 275 business leaders and elected officials, offered a broad-brush, state-of-the-economy.

Florida, for example, produces 1 in 11 jobs in the country and has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $1.1 trillion. Leon County has a GDP of $14.2 billion, the 15th highest in the state.

Since 2010, there’s been an uptick in jobs, with the exception of a sharp dip and subsequent spike created by Hurricane Irma in 2018, said Adrienne Johnston, chief of the Bureau of Workforce Statistics & Economic Research at the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

“Right now, we are at just over 2% for our job (rate),” Johnston said about Leon County. “When we look at how that compares for this region, the Tallahassee Metro Area, we’re actually right on par with the state.”

Most of Leon County’s job growth was driven by professional and business services – an indicator of a diversified economy. This sector, she said, tends to be high-wage jobs.

The fastest growing occupations projected from 2019 to 2027 in Tallahassee are largely based in the healthcare sector and include nurses, respiratory therapists and medical assistants.

The forum also covered Leon County’s improved poverty rate of 20.4%, although nearly 10,000 children (18.8%) are living in poverty in Leon County.

In February 2019, the United Way of Florida released a financial hardship report of the Asset Limited, Income Constrained Employed or ALICE. It found 46% of households representing 3.4 million Floridians are struggling to pay for basic needs.

There’s a growing number of residents who are struggling to meet basic needs or are one missed paycheck away from financial ruin.

ALICE households in Leon County increased from 41 percent in 2017 to 43 percent in 2018. During the same time period there was a slight 2 percent dip in households living in poverty, which moved those households to ALICE status.

Tallahassee Chamber Board Chairwoman Beth Corum said there must be a continued effort to drive talent development and workforce, which has now been folded into the Chamber’s strategic planning.

“I think that’s a message we need to get to some of these folks who finish high school and really struggle with what to do because they are not prepared or desire to go to a four-year college,” said Corum, co-chief operating officer for Capital City Bank. “Frankly, I think those are some of the people who slip into our ALICE population. I think they go hand-in-hand.

“If we can get these students early enough and help them understand all of the different pathways to success in their future,” Corum said, “I think you begin to chip away at your ALICE population.”