Local jobless rates continue to drop (DOCUMENT)

Dusty Ricketts | Northwest Florida Daily News

Local unemployment rates continue to drop to the point that one local economist said Walton County soon will enter an employee’s market instead of an employer’s market.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity recently released its March unemployment report, which showed all 67 counties in the state had lower unemployment rates than in February.

Read the March unemployment report. >>

Walton County’s jobless rate dropped from 5.2 percent in February to 4.3 percent last month. Local economist David Goetsch said when a community’s unemployment rate drops to 4 percent or below, it becomes an employee’s market.

“When you get down to 4 percent even, that’s when the pool of employees is so small that employers start fighting over them and having to offer benefits and perquisites,” Goetsch said. “Tough on the businesses, good for the employees.

“Before the recession, that’s when McDonald’s was paying $2 above minimum wage and paying people’s bridge passes to get out to Destin,” he added.

Walton County’s unemployment rate was the second lowest in state for March behind Monroe County at 3.8 percent.

Okaloosa County’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.5 percent in February to 4.8 percent, the third lowest in Florida. Santa Rosa County tied with Suwannee and Lafayette counties at 6.1 percent for the 20th lowest unemployment rate.

Santa Rosa’s rate was its lowest since October 2008.

“We were quite surprised and pleased with the decrease in the unemployment rate for our local area,” said Linda Sumblin, executive director of the Workforce Development Board of Okaloosa and Walton Counties.

“Even statewide, I understand there is a decline in construction and manufacturing,” Sumblin added. “We’re not seeing that locally. We’re seeing an increase in both of those sectors.”

Sumblin said she expects the upcoming tourist season to spark strong job growth compared to previous years.

“We’re seeing a real positive increase in the demand for the employment needs this year,” she said. “We’re feeling very optimistic in what we’re seeing in our local area.”

Florida’s unemployment rate dropped from 7.8 percent in February to 7.5 percent in March. It was below the national unemployment rate of 7.6 percent for the second month in a row.

“The state numbers are good and they’re very encouraging,” Goetsch said. “I’ve very pleased. We’re not back to prior recession days yet, but we’re on the right track and we’re doing a lot better. Construction is happening in Florida, and you can even see that here if you drive around. The real estate inventory is gone. People are now buying new houses.

“The tourists are back. I’m predicting an excellent tourist season this year,” he added. “Florida’s economy is looking good.”