by Amy Martinez
Updated 2 weeks ago
The picture is — robust. In the past five years, Florida has added nearly a million jobs.
The current economic expansion, which began in June 2009, is now entering its second decade, and Florida has never seen a job market like today’s.
Employment in virtually every sector in every metropolitan area in Florida is up markedly since 2014, and wages are growing as well. Notably, the fastest-growing areas have been in better-paying sectors like construction, health care and professional services — employment in each of those sectors has grown more than 12% since 2014. Slower-growing sectors include retail, where employment has grown by only 8%.
“We’re closing in on full employment,” says Sean Snaith, director of UCF’s Institute for Economic Forecasting. “That’s going to start to manifest itself in faster wage and salary growth. The biggest problem in the labor markets in Florida is not the availability of jobs. The challenge over the next few years is going to be the availability of workers. I’d rather have a worker availability problem than a jobs problem.”
Pockets of growth are everywhere: In Orlando, the University of Central Florida has spawned a high-tech cluster focused on computer simulation, training and cyber-defense. Florida’s Space Coast, hit hard by the recession and the end of the space shuttle program in 2011, is surging, boosted by private rocket companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. The state’s hospital systems are expanding, and population growth is fueling demand for housing, restaurants and office space.
Snaith predicts the number of jobs in Florida will increase at an average annual rate of 2% during the next four years. A big factor will be housing construction, he says. “We’re still a bit behind the curve in terms of housing supply,” he says. “I think builders finally see that this is not another case of false demand fueled by speculation. This is population- and economy-driven demand for housing. It’s real.”
Until now, the only other post-World War II expansion to last 10 years was from March 1991 to March 2001. So how long can today’s current boom keep booming? “A lot of folks think we’re due for a recession, but you don’t have a recession just because you’re due. You have a recession because you get over-exuberant,” says Mark Vitner, a senior economist at Wells Fargo.
“We haven’t overbuilt housing. Apartments look like they’re a little overbuilt, but not massively so, and we haven’t built much office or retail space,” he says. “The places you’d look for a recession to come out of don’t look overdone. There’s a good chance the good times could last for quite some time.”
New Incentives, Higher Pay
With more job openings than job seekers, some employers are getting creative to entice workers into the labor market. Suffolk Construction, which has four offices in Florida, is helping employees pay off their student loans, contributing $100 a month toward debt relief for each employee. This fall, Disney will begin covering the costs of a UCF degree, and Tesla will pay students at Miami Dade College to learn to become electriccar technicians.
The tight labor market also is causing employers like banks and retailers to raise wages for their lowest-paid workers. JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo now pay their hourly employees a $15 minimum wage. Bank of America recently raised its minimum wage to $17 an hour and will continue to increase pay until it hits $20 an hour in 2021. Amazon and Costco have increased their minimum pay to $15 an hour, and Target plans to start paying entry-level workers no less than $15 an hour by the end of 2020.
Last year, after negotiations with unions, Disney announced it will raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour by fall 2021.
The Gig Economy
Traditional jobs are still very much dominant and still preferred by most workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of U.S. workers who do gig work as their main job declined from 11% in 2005 to 10% in 2017 — a surprise given the rise of on-demand apps such as Uber and Lyft. But that doesn’t include those who do gig work as a second job or only occasionally to supplement their wages. Contrary to the stereotypical association of independent-contractor jobs with the Millennial generation, a Labor Department report found older workers increasingly occupy the “gig” jobs.
Mason Jackson, president and CEO of CareerSource Broward, says gig work is a definite factor in South Florida’s economy. “As people get older and want sources of income, even in retirement, I think you’re going to see growth in the gig economy,” he says. “There are an awful lot of people who have retired but need to continue working to supplement their income.”
Two Workers, Two Stories
ADP Payroll Solutions
In November 2017, Orlando-area resident Walker lost her job as a human resources consultant after her employer, Siemens, outsourced her work to Costa Rica. With three months of severance, she began looking for another job, she says. “I didn’t want to wait around.”
The job search didn’t go as planned, however. Walker, who has a master’s degree from the University of Toledo, attended nearly a dozen job fairs and applied for multiple job openings before seeking help from Career- Source Central Florida.
Early on, she suspected her age, 65, might be a problem. “I had a couple of interviews at different places, but I met resistance,” she says. “I’m at an age where most people are retiring.”
In February — more than a year after being laid off — Walker found work at ADP Payroll Solutions in Maitland. Walker’s experience suggests that even in a tight labor market, the ease with which a job seeker is able to find work still depends on the industry, the job and “who you know,” she says, noting that her CareerSource adviser had a lot to do with her getting hired.
West Palm Beach
Mendenhall, a Facebook advertising manager, began working at Digital Resource in May after a personal connection on LinkedIn suggested he look at the company’s job openings. Mendenhall, who has been working in digital marketing since graduating from Florida Atlantic University in 2009, got a 7% pay increase with the new job. “The opportunity came to me,” he says. “The job market for this career is very hot right now.”
West Palm Beach
Since its first hire in 2016, internet marketing agency Digital Resource has grown to more than 40 employees in downtown West Palm Beach. Founder Shay Berman now plans to hire another 60 employees in the next three to five years. “We’re growing by about 15 people a year,” he says. “Our average age is 25.”
Founded in 2014, Digital Resource helps businesses with social media marketing, search engine optimization, website design, online advertising and video content creation. Its annual revenue doubled from $2 million in 2017 to $4.3 million in 2018 and is projected to hit $7 million this year. “There are two to three new clients coming in every day, so that’s definitely a lot of work to handle,” Berman says.
He says he uses a number of sources to find job candidates, including local colleges, websites such as Indeed and a professional recruiting firm.
“Half of our job seekers come to us. The other half we go after,” he says. “We appeal to them through our culture and our non-aggressive management. It’s empowering for people to know they can come in, do a great job and either be where they’re at or go above and beyond and be recognized.”
Read more in Florida Trend's August issue.
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