PANAMA CITY, Fla. – One year after Hurricane Michael dealt a devastating blow to Northwest Florida, industries are recovering and bringing jobs back to the region. There remains much work to be done, and state partner agencies are committed to providing resources needed to restore local economies to pre-hurricane prosperity.
“The destruction was overwhelming, but so was the spirit of resilience, displayed both by those who were directly impacted and those who rallied to assist them,” said Michelle Dennard, CEO and president of CareerSource Florida. “CareerSource Gulf Coast and CareerSource Chipola have worked tirelessly to help their communities recover and get back to business as quickly as possible.”
After Hurricane Michael hit, CareerSource Florida worked with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Network in an immediate effort to connect displaced workers with much-needed assistance. The CareerSource Florida Board of Directors released $1 million for Hurricane Michael-related employment support services. Team members from unscathed areas brought staff and mobile units into affected areas to help displaced workers file for Disaster Unemployment Assistance and other recovery programs. CareerSource Florida launched a digital outreach campaign to raise awareness of available resources across affected counties. A total of 14,118 Disaster Unemployment Assistance Claims were filed, with 10,583 of those in Bay County alone.
“Florida is a big small business state that is economically dependent on the health and wellbeing of its small businesses,” said Michael Myhre, Florida SBDC Network chief executive officer and CareerSource Florida board member. “With our Partners in Prosperity, the Florida SBDC remains committed to assisting more than 65,000 small businesses who support more than $11.5 billion of the region’s $26.3 billion economy make a full recovery from this horrific storm.”
CareerSource Gulf Coast had to vacate its hurricane-damaged facility in Panama City but continued to serve jobs seekers and businesses from its parking lot and then a temporary location donated by the local school district until they could return in July. Executive Director Kim Bodine says her team is working tirelessly to meet the economic development and employment needs of Bay, Gulf and Franklin counties.
“We are eager to see businesses return to our area and expand as we continue to do what we do best: connect employers with the talented job seekers who will help them thrive,” Bodine said. “We are deeply grateful to everyone who has assisted us in our recovery.”
CareerSource Chipola, serving Calhoun, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties, set up temporary employment and recovery assistance locations throughout its area with assistance from partners statewide. Executive Director Richard Williams says progress is slow but steady.
“CareerSource Chipola is leveraging all available resources and working diligently with many community partners to build our area back even stronger than before,” Williams said. “This is a close-knit community of hardworking citizens. We sincerely appreciate the ongoing focus and support of federal, state and local partners working collaboratively to help us recover.”
CareerSource Capital Region and CareerSource North Florida also felt the impacts of Hurricane Michael.
“CareerSource North Florida was privileged to be able to assist our network partners to the west with team members and our mobile unit, ensuring services were provided as quickly as possible to those most in need,” said Executive Director Diane Head. “We also appreciate the CareerSource Florida board’s timely allocation of financial resources to support response and recovery efforts.”
Hurricane Michael contributed to the over-the-year loss of more than 5,500 jobs in the affected counties, reversing a trend of steady growth. The low point was registered in November 2018, the month after the hurricane, according to year-over-year figures from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. By March 2019, the most recent data available, the over-the-year loss in jobs improved by more than 2,300 workers.
“Governor DeSantis is committed to the full recovery of the Panhandle community – rebuilding their lives stronger and more resilient than before,” said Ken Lawson, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and member of the CareerSource Florida Board of Directors. “We will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners and utilize every available resource to get business doors back open, bring new businesses in and get communities growing again.”
“We continue to help individuals in the communities we serve throughout Gadsden, Leon and Wakulla counties recover in the wake of Hurricane Michael,” said CareerSource Capital Region CEO Jim McShane. “Through our National Emergency Grant, we’re helping government and non-profit organizations with recovery efforts, and we’re helping individuals who lost their employment or were displaced due to the hurricane find jobs.”
In September, the governor’s office announced $5 million in awards for a six-county region in Northwest Florida through the Rural Infrastructure Grant Fund. Local governments and municipalities in Calhoun, Gadsden, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties have until Nov. 22, 2019, to apply for infrastructure project funding.
Unemployment rates are back to pre-Michael levels in half of the hurricane-affected counties, with August 2019 unemployment statistics largely resembling those of August 2018. For example, in Bay County, the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent — the same unemployment rate as Florida overall. The total labor force in Bay was listed at 89,425, down year-over-year by 1,226 workers. State leaders are exploring ways to attract new business and for displaced residents to return.
About CareerSource Florida
CareerSource Florida provides oversight and policy direction for talent development programs administered by the Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida’s 24 local workforce development boards and their 100 career centers. Together, the CareerSource Florida network connects employers with qualified, skilled talent and Floridians with employment and career development opportunities to achieve economic prosperity. Learn more at careersourceflorida.com.