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Levy labor force grows, so does employment

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By Lou Elliott Jones

The number of people in Levy County’s labor force grew in September by 23 to 16,431 from 16,408 in August. 

But at the same time, 70 of those people people found jobs lowering the county’s jobless rate to 13.3 percent from 13.6 in August.

“Hopefully we can do better, but it shows that a light is appearing at the end of the tunnel,” Pat O’Neal, county economic development director. “Because if we put on 70 jobs and it’s not the holiday season it means something good.” O’Neal said if another 100 jobs come for the holiday season, things will be looking up.

O’Neal also mentioned that the coming construction of the Tri County Hospital in 2011 is reason to be optimistic about the job market in Levy County. Construction of the 64-bed facility, which would start with a possible groundbreaking in late January would help the county’s jobs picture. “If that one starts it could be the tip of the iceberg for us,” O’Neal said.

When the hospital eventually opens there will be employment for medical staff and associated businesses in the community, he said.

As for the latest employment figures released by the state Agency for Workforce Innovation and CLM Workforce Connection,  neighboring counties Marion and Citrus also had slight dips in their unemployment from August to September. 

The three counties — Levy, Marion and Citrus — posted a regional unemployment rate of 14 percent, up 0.5 percent over a year ago, but down 0.3 percent since August. 

The state’s jobless rate in September was 11.9 percent, which represents 1.1 million unemployed workers out of a labor force of 9,242,000. The national rate was 9.6 percent for the same period.

Marion County’s unemployment rate for September was 14.3 percent, a drop of 0.2 percent from August.  Citrus County followed with a rate of 13.7 percent, a decrease of 0.3 percent from the previous month. 

Workforce Connection’s Chief Executive Officer Rusty Skinner said while Levy County’s gain in employment could “indicate some level of seasonal employment rather than permanent job growth.”

Skinner said Workforce continues to work with economic development partners throughout the three-county region to bring in major new employers; equally important are efforts focusing on services and training incentives to help small businesses.

“As we have all heard, economists, while talking about a slowness in rebounding, are also talking about the recovery coming from small business — one job at a time,” he said.

 Skinner pointed to tax credits and training incentives offered or facilitated by Workforce Connection, including:

• Small business On-the-Job Training  for Workforce-sponsored trainees for up to 90 percent reimbursement of wages paid

• State hiring tax credits accessible to small business

• Federal tax credits for small business that reduce the employer’s contribution for FICA.