ORLANDO — The state of Florida, once a post child for skyrocketing home foreclosures and double-digit unemployment rates, may now be outpacing the rest of the nation when it comes to job growth.
And more than any other part of the state, it’s the Orlando area that seems to be leading the charge, the office of Gov. Rick Scott announced on Friday.
During a press conference in Orlando, the governor noted that statewide unemployment in September was at 6.8 percent, then dropped to 6.7 percent in October. Since the national unemployment rate is 7.3, that puts the state below the national average — where, the governor noted, it has been since March 2013.
The reason for the drop, Scott said, is that Florida has created 440,900 private sector jobs since December 2010.
“This is our eighth month below the national average,” the governor said. “Over the last two months, the state has added more than 67,000 private sector jobs. This is great news for Florida families.”
Florida’s annual job growth rate from October 2012 to last month has been stronger than at any time since the housing market collapsed in 2008 — the strongest, in fact, since June 2006, when the Sunshine State’s housing market was still booming.
The crash two years later left Florida with one of the nation’s most devastated economies, along with a sky-high inventory of unsold homes, one of the nation’s worse home foreclosure crisis, and an unemployment rate that soared past 11 percent.
Last month, though, 46,400 new private sector jobs got created, signifying the largest growth in one month since December 2010.
Jesse Panuccio, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, said Florida is now doing better than the nation as a whole when it comes to creating jobs.
“We continue to outpace the nation with respect to job growth, job demand, and unemployment decline,” Panuccio said.
In December 2010, Florida’s unemployment rate peaked at 11.1 percent. By October 2012, it had fallen to 8.2 percent. The latest figure shows the continuing drop.
The trajectory may be for even more growth next year. The Florida Economic Estimating Conference has projected that Florida will create more than 1 million new jobs by 2018.
WHERE THE GROWTH COMES FROM
One reason for the improving economy may be a healing housing market, the governor’s office noted. Between 2009 and 2010, when the number of homes for sale soared but the buyers disappeared, today the situation has reversed: the backlog of existing homes on the market has fallen by 36 percent since November 2011, according to the Florida Realtors Association, while the state’s median home prices went up 16.6 percent from October 2012 to last month. In another hopeful sign of recovery, the construction industry appears also to be on the men. Florida housing starts rose by 30.7 percent from August 2012 to this past August.
When the housing market crashed in 2008, a state that once appeared likely to continue growing rapidly suddenly started seeing a larger number of people leaving Florida than moving in. But now that trend is being reversed, and U.S. Census figures show Florida has recently experienced an influx of people moving into the state.
THE ORLANDO BOOM
If the state appears to be doing well, the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford Metropolitan Statistical Area gained the second highest number of jobs last month among all of the state’s metro areas — 29,100 new jobs over the past year. The unemployment rate in the Orlando MSA was 7.8 percent in October 2012, but last month it fell to 6 — below both the state and national average.
The Orlando metro area gained the most jobs statewide in the leisure and hospitality sectors (9,700), and was among the top two metro areas in education and health services growth (4,400) and financial services (2,300).
A Manpower Employment Outlook Survey for the fourth quarter of 2013 showed that Orlando area employers expect to continue hiring, with 22 percent of the companies interviewed indicating they want to bring on more workers.
The local housing market is also doing well, and housing starts in the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford MSA were up by 12.8 percent over the year.
The improving economy will likely play a major role in the 2014 elections in Florida. Gov. Scott, a Republican, has been among the nation’s most unpopular chief executives for several years now, with an approval rating below 50 percent. Scott trails former Gov. Charlie Crist in most opinion polls. Crist, who served one term from 2007 to 2011 as a Republican, is now running for governor as a Democrat.
The latest Quinnipiac poll, released Thursday, Nov. 21, showed Crist with 47 percent and Scott taking 40 percent.
The governor’s office is expected to tout the state’s improving economy as a strong reason to re-elect the governor to a second term, while also noting that the state’s economic collapse between 2008 and 2010 mostly happened under Crist’s watch.
Still, political analysts believe Scott remains one of the nation’s most vulnerable governors running for re-election in 2014. Charlie Cook’s Cook Political Report ranks this race as a toss-up, and so does Stuart Rothenberg’s Rothenberg Political Report, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball.
One benefit for Scott is that so far, no fellow Republicans have stepped forward to challenge him in the state’s August 2014 primary.
Crist is likely to face former state Sen. Nan Rich in the Democratic primary, and awaiting the two major parties in the general election is Libertarian nominee Adrian Wyllie.
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