Polk County gaining jobs faster than any other metro area in Florida

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Mining, logging and construction jobs were one of the very few categories Polk that saw job losses over the past year, with 700 fewer jobs than a year ago. Most other categories saw significant increases.

LAKELAND – Jobs are being created faster in Polk County than in any other metropolitan area throughout Florida. And the county continued to reach an all-time high for the number of people employed, according to the latest job data released Monday.

The data showed the unemployment rate for Polk County was 4.2% in January, according to a CareerSource Polk news release. This rate was 2.9 percentage points lower than the region's year-ago rate of 7.1%.

And January’s figures were slightly below December’s primarily in the job category covering trade, transportation, and utilities.

Employment trends

The metro area’s unemployment rate in January was 0.7 percentage points higher than the state rate of 3.5%. But the county’s workforce was 335,107 in January, up 11,937 (a 3.7% increase) over the year in a sign the county’s employers added more jobs to the local economy.

According to Gary Ralston, managing partner at SVN Saunders Ralston Dantzler Real Estate, local employment trends are both obvious and hidden in the figures.

“We have almost seven (6.84) times as many employees in warehouse and storage as the national average,” he said. “It is interesting to note 3.5 times as many in wood manufacturing.” This is because workers make pallets that are used in warehouses.

Truck transportation is also very strong because of employers such as Saddle Creek Corp.

The county has 1.7 times as many jobs in motor vehicle dealers compared with the national average. “This is because we are located in the center of the I-4 corridor – more people in drive time" commuting to jobs, Ralston said.

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In other data released by CareerSource, there were 14,016 unemployed residents in the Lakeland-Winter Haven region.

In January, nonagricultural employment in the Lakeland-Winter Haven metro area was 260,800, an increase of 11,500 jobs (4.6%) over a year earlier.

Job categories

Job categories that grew faster in the metro area compared with statewide statistics over the year include: other services (7.8%); trade, transportation, and utilities (6.4%); and education and health services (4.3%).

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the other services jobs category “comprises establishments engaged in providing services not specifically provided for elsewhere in the classification system ... such as equipment and machinery repairing, promoting or administering religious activities, grantmaking, advocacy, and providing dry cleaning and laundry services, personal care services, death care services, pet care services, photofinishing services, temporary parking services, and dating services.”

In other statistics from CareerSource Polk, the release said:

  • The Lakeland-Winter Haven MSA had the fastest annual job growth rate compared to all the metro areas in the state in other services in January.

  • The Lakeland-Winter Haven MSA had the third-fastest annual job growth rate compared with all the metro areas in the state in education and health services in January.

The industries gaining the top three spots in job growth over the year were: trade, transportation, and utilities (up 4,700 jobs); leisure and hospitality (3,500 job increase); and professional and business services (1,800 more jobs). The remaining job categories with increases were:

  • education and health services (1,500 jobs);

  • other services (500 jobs);

  • financial activities (300 jobs);

  • manufacturing (200 jobs);

  • and information (100 jobs).

The sectors losing workers from a year ago were mining, logging, and construction, losing 700 jobs; and government, down 400 jobs.

In other noticeable trends, the retail trade category was noteworthy because typically that category peaks in December because of the holiday shopping season and falls in January, Ralston said.

However, that did not happen this year as both retail and leisure and hospitality, which includes hotels, eating and drinking establishments, are gaining customers as people venture out since COVID-19 restrictions have eased, he said.

"We are seeing all-time record numbers of people coming into the county as well as room occupancy and the room rate we are getting for the rooms, which means demand is high," said Jack Cormier, communications specialist with Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing.

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At the start of the pandemic, the agency decided to keep advertising and that strategy has paid off, he said, as hundreds of sports teams have county fields for games and events.

"Leisure travel is through the roof as well," he said, pointing to new attractions such as Peppa Pig Theme Park, Camp Margaritaville and Streamsong Golf Resort for the growth in tourism.

"It's just a good time to be in the hospitality business in Central Florida," Cormier said.

A news release from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office touted the positive news in the numbers, stating, "Florida continued to have steady growth and economic stability."

Employment opportunities

Statewide in January, Florida’s overall unemployment rate decreased by 2.5 percentage points from a year earlier to 3.5% and continued to remain below the national rate of 4.0%.

“The U.S. Department of Labor’s revised historical data also shows that Florida’s unemployment rate has remained below the national rate for 14 consecutive months,” the release said.

In January, Florida’s labor force participation total was 10,448,000, greater than Florida’s February 2020 pre-pandemic labor force, and increasing by 318,000, or 3.1%, over the year.

Employment opportunities have also been amplified as Floridians remain confident in finding meaningful employment, the release said. There were 8,067,500 private-sector jobs statewide in January, an increase of 124,700 (a 1.6% rise) from February 2020.

"In Florida, one thing that we all know is that the construction activity has really opened up," said Shivendu Shivendu, an economics professor at the University of South Florida. He said tourism and hospitality-related job growth was caused by pent-up demand for vacations and travel.

The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions early in the Sunshine State, net migration patterns of people relocating to Florida, and an overall healthy job market in Florida are all factors for the positive economic news statewide, Shivendu said.

Only in March does the Florida Office of Economic Opportunity release two employment reports, a second report is also due out in 10 days with data for February.

This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Lakeland, Florida: Employment numbers continue to rise across