Unemployment takes dive in Volusia, Flagler

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Last Modified: Sunday, September 21, 2014 at 12:23 a.m.

Volusia and Flagler county businesses have hired thousands of new workers during the past year and the number of unemployed has dropped dramatically.

Koby Kobussen tightens the wheel nut on a portable pump on the shop floor at Thompson Pump in Port Orange. Kobussen was hired in August in response to an increase in the company’s export business.

News-Journal/PETER BAUER

That said, August’s seasonally unadjusted unemployment rate ticked down in Volusia to 6.5 percent from a revised 6.6 percent in July, snapping a three-month rise. The rate is the 41st highest among the state’s 67 counties, according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

Flagler’s August unemployment rate inched up to 9.5 percent from a revised 9.4 percent in July. It’s the county’s fourth consecutive monthly rise and ranks as the second-highest rate behind Hendry County at 13.1 percent.

“The numbers compared to the prior month are not remarkably different, but the changes year-over-year continue to reflect the economic improvements and the job seekers are feeling that and reaching out and finding employment. The number of unemployed is down accordingly,” said Rob Ehrhardt, Volusia County’s economic development director.

Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 6.3 percent in August from 6.2 percent in July, but that is down from a year ago when it was 7.1 percent.

Volusia County’s unemployment rate was 7.4 a year ago and Flagler’s 10.5 percent.

Since then, Volusia businesses have hired 6,358 additional workers and the number unemployed has dropped by 1,912. The workforce has grown by 4,446 to 258,395.

Flagler businesses have added 1,119 jobs while the number of unemployed has fallen by 282. The workforce has grown by 837 to 35,973.

“Looking at the big picture, we are definitely better than we were a year ago when we were first,” said Helga van Eckert, executive director of the Flagler County Department of Economic Opportunity.

Thompson Pump in Port Orange added four workers in August to increase its local manufacturing plant’s labor pool to 123 and wants to hire more.

“We’ve seen a drastic increase of 35 to 40 percent in our export business from a year ago,” said Dale Conway, vice president of engineering for Thompson Pumps. “We’ve hired assembly workers, testers and inspectors to keep up with our increased work flow.”

Exporting has more than made up for flat domestic sales, Conway said, caused by a difficulty of finding diesel engines that meet new federal emission standards and match with the company’s pumps. Foreign countries in South America and Africa do not have those same emission requirements.

Economic development officials acknowledge a flattening out of the local unemployment rates in recent months with the traditional summer rise when new high school and college graduates enter the workforce and the unemployed numbers increase with temporarily displaced school staffs.

However, they expect the rates to come down slightly in the fall and more so in the future.

“I think we are seeing steady improvement. I look at the August numbers and don’t see anything that really worries me,” said Robin King, president and CEO of CareerSource Flagler Volusia, the regional workforce development board. “We’ll see more businesses hiring. The future looks good with the various growth projects.”

Future projects with potential significant job creation include Blue Coast Bakers on North U.S. 1 in Ormond Beach with 300 jobs, Trader Joe’s distribution center at Interstate 95 and Dunn Avenue in Daytona Beach with 400 jobs and 50 jobs with Moving Minds, a global strategic marketing and web consultant in Palm Coast.

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