Larry Strickler, the senior vice president of public affairs for Workforce Central Florida, says the local tourism industry is growing, but other fields remain stagnant. (Photo by Michael Freeman).
POINCIANA – Florida’s very hard hit economy, still struggling to overcome the impact of the housing market collapse, is showing mixed signs of both growth and continued challenges, said Larry Strickler.
“The Orlando area is growing faster than any part of the state,” said Strickler, the senior vice president of public affairs for Workforce Central Florida, the Orlando-based state employment firm.
But the challenge, he said, is “It’s still tourism and hospitality jobs.”
The Orlando metropolitan area is starting to experience a healthy amount of business growth, but as Strickler noted, most of the jobs are within a field doing well – tourism – but that tends to rely on low wage, low skill employees, or part-time workers. A lot of other fields, he said, are still on standby, neither laying off workers or hiring, but just avoiding any change whatsoever.
A lot of that, he said, can be attributed to economic uncertainty, as the nation’s unemployment rate remains above 9 percent, and Congress and the White House continue to fight over whether to raise the nation’s debt ceiling limit in order to meet all of the federal government’s financial obligations.
That uncertainty about where the economy is headed, Strickler said, has most businesses in a holding pattern.
“There’s no optimism, and no crystal ball,” he said.
Another ominous sign, he said, is “temp agency hiring.”
Temporary employment firms, he said, were doing well a year ago. Businesses were turning to these firms to hire workers on a temporary basis, rather than make an investment in a full time employees. Often times, though, temporary positions can lead to permanent jobs.
“It was going up a year ago,” Strickler said of temporary agency hiring. “It’s kind of cooled off now. That’s been stagnant for a few months now.”
Again, Strickler said businesses simply don’t feel confident enough about where the economy is headed in the near future to feel comfortable hiring more workers.
“They don’t know, they’re too uncertain,” he said.
One of the hardest hit communities in Central Florida has been Poinciana. The community of 70,000 residents that crosses Polk and Osceola counties rode an eocnomic boom in the past decade, as builders constructed scores of new homes and could barely keep up with demand.
But when the housing market collapsed in 2008, the Poinciana economy was badly shaken.
There are signs up improvements on the horizon. Osceola Regional Medical Center is building the first hospital in Poinciana, with construction likely to start next year, and the state is building a light rail system called SunRail that will include a stop in Poinciana.
Nick Murdock, a member of the Poinciana Economic Development Alliance, said there are probably going to be 6,000 jobs created in the community next year as the construction work begins.
“The jobs are coming,” Murdock said, adding that he hopes as many Poinciana residents as possible get them.
The alliance is sponsoring a job fair on Jan. 19, and hopeful that by then, the construction work will have started.
“At the January 19 job fair, there should be a lot of hiring there,” Murdock said. “I think we’ll hopefully have some subcontractors there who will be looking at resumes.”
“Construction is the building block of the economy,” said Wendy Farrell, another member of the alliance. “That’s where it’s all coming from.”
But they also acknowledged, as Strickler did, that at the moment, the economy remains kind of frozen in time: neither falling backwards or moving ahead.
Letha Vanderhei, who also is a member of the alliance, said that’s why they’re so hopeful about the construction projects beginning to turn things around – and not just in terms of unemployment, but also the community’s quality of life.
“If I want to go out to eat, it’s 45 minutes to go find a restaurant,” she said. “I want this community to grow. We’re going to have to have anchors. We need anchors here.”

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