Construction helps lead new job creation in South Florida, as the state outpaces the nation’s unemployment recovery

Construction is underway at the 109 Tower, a 15-story student dorm with roughly 180 residential units plus first-floor retail on Southwest Seventh Terrace and 109th Avenue in Sweetwater. Plans are for the building to be completed sometime in the spring of 2014.
Construction is underway at the 109 Tower, a 15-story student dorm with roughly 180 residential units plus first-floor retail on Southwest Seventh Terrace and 109th Avenue in Sweetwater. Plans are for the building to be completed sometime in the spring of 2014.




As condo towers rise and home-building picks up, new construction is creating job growth in South Florida, helping lead the state’s economic recovery as it continues to outshine the nation.

Hiring data released Monday showed Miami-Dade County added 2,400 new construction jobs in January, up 7.6 percent over the same month in 2013. Broward County added 4,400 building-related jobs in January, up 14.1 percent year-over-year.

Overall, unemployment inched up in Miami-Dade to 6.9 percent, compared to 6.8 percent in December, as more people sought jobs, while Broward’s unemployment rose to 5.3 percent from 5.0 percent the previous month, due to the dropoff in seasonal holiday jobs. Monroe County led the state with the lowest unemployment rate, 3.8 percent, compared to 3.5 percent in December.

Economists see the state’s hiring picture continuing to improve.

“The trend is overall positive,” said Karl Kuykendall, an economist who covers Florida at IHS, an economics forecasting firm based in Lexington, Mass. “The housing market in Miami-Dade recovered well in 2013, and now we’re seeing the unemployment figures cooperate with that,” he said.

Statewide, Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate fell to its lowest point since June 2008, further evidence of an improving economy. The state’s rate dropped to 6.1 percent in January, down 0.2 percentage points from December and down 1.9 percentage points from 8.0 percent a year ago.

As the tourism-oriented sunshine economy amps up, joblessness in Florida was below that of the nation for the sixth consecutive month. The U.S. rate in January was 6.6 percent, as 43 states and the District of Columbia showed unemployment rate decreases from December. Only one, state, Iowa, saw a slight increase, and six states remained unchanged, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Monday. Every state and D.C. witnessed drops in unemployment from a year earlier.

Amid the bright spots of the local jobs report, Miami-Dade showed the second-largest year-over-year gain in the state, after Orlando.

A total of 30,500 new jobs were created in Miami-Dade year-over-year, according to figures prepared by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Bureau of Labor Market Statistics. That compares to 36,400 new jobs, a 3.5 percent gain, for front-runner Orlando.

“We’re seeing great improvement,” said Jaap Donath, senior vice president of research and strategic planning for the Beacon Council, a public-private business development agency. “The fact that we are under 7 percent unemployment is great, but there is still a lot of work to be done to make sure we get this number lower.”

From December to January, non-seasonally adjusted jobs fell 1.6 percent in Miami-Dade and 0.9 percent in Broward, reflecting more job seekers. “They took temporary jobs during the holidays and now they are back in the market,” said Mason Jackson, president and CEO of CareerSource Broward.

In Miami-Dade, nearly every sector added jobs year-over-year — including manufacturing, retail, transportation, warehousing and utilities, leisure and hospitality, finance and insurance, education and health services — which marks “a really good positive sign,” Donath said. Earlier in the recovery, most of those added were low-paying service sector jobs.

The construction sector led South Florida’s job growth, and is expected to continue to boost the payroll ranks, as more than 175 condo projects with more than 24,000 units rise from the ground across Miami-Dade and Broward. Most are east of I-95, near the ocean or in downtown Miami, according to Condo Vultures LLC, a real estate consultancy.

Jade Signature, for example, a luxury tower rising in Sunny Isles Beach, has brought in 120 construction workers during the last four months, and will ramp up to more than 500, said Edgardo Defortuna, president and CEO of Fortune International, the developer of Jade Signature.

“You just have to look at the sky in Miami to see the number of jobs being created by the constuction industry,” he said.

Manufacturing also showed robust growth in Miami-Dade, up 6 percent, led by manufacturing of durable goods, which created 2,000 of the 2,100 new manufacturing jobs.

Retail jobs, one of the largest sectors in the county, also improved, with 7,900 new jobs, up 5.8 percent year-over-year. Food- and beverage-related jobs showed the highest percentage growth within the retail sector, up 7.4 percent.

Meghan Hooper, 23, is among those who found a position in the restaurant industry. After searching for a job for more than year, she started working as a server earlier this month at the newly opened Earls Kitchen + Bar at Dadeland Mall. She was among 225 new employees the Vancouver-based company hired.

“I was super excited, after looking for so long and trying so many places,” said Hooper, a Miami Dade College student who lives in Kendall.

Government jobs were the exception to Miami-Dade’s upward trend. About 1,500 jobs, or 1.1 percent, were lost during the last 12 months. Most of those were in local government, down 1,200 jobs. Four hundred federal jobs were erased, while 100 state jobs were created.

In Broward, a total of 24,100 new jobs were created year-over-year. While the construction sector showed the highest percentage increase there as well, gaining 4,400 jobs, trade, transportation and utilities jobs rose by 5,800, or 3.4 percent. Retail trade jumped by 3.7 percent, creating 3,700 new jobs, while leisure and hospitality jobs increased by 4.2 percent, adding 3,500 jobs.

Unlike Miami-Dade, Broward grew the number of government positions by 3,000 overall, or 3 percent. Local-government jobs rose by 3,400, while 300 federal jobs and 100 state jobs dropped off.

Statewide, labor market numbers show how Florida is further outpacing the national labor market recovery. The number of payroll jobs in Florida created in 2013 was revised higher by 35,600 jobs in the latest report.

The decline in unemployment from 8.0 percent in January 2013 to 6.1 percent in January 2014 was driven by new jobs, said Sean Snaith, director of the Institute for Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida. The state’s labor force showed a small increase of 29,000, but the number of unemployed declined by 172,000.

Snaith said the new numbers show that payroll job growth year-over-year in January was 2.6 percent — the fastest pace since the end of the recession.

He said it may be “a harbinger of even better times ahead for Florida’s labor market.”

In 2013, Florida “crossed over from lagging behind the national recovery to getting out in front and leading it — we saw unemployment fall below the national rate, and the pace of job creation exceed the national average,” he said. “And that gap we put between us and the U.S. economy looks to widen in the next year or two.”

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