In the Boston area, growth in technology and biotech is driving the recovery, even pushing up employment in the formerly beleaguered construction industry to a four-year high in July. Tocci Building Cos. recently hired about seven employees to oversee construction of a $1 billion office and lab center in Cambridge that will house life sciences firms. Demand for such projects is so high that Tocci was turned down by several subcontractors, says executive Laura Handler. After cutting 40% of its 100 workers in the recession, payrolls have climbed back to 75.
Utah and Colorado have mounted even more robust comebacks, partly as a result of growth in both high-tech and natural gas exploration. Employment in each state fell 6% to 7% but more than half those jobs have returned.
Manufacturing Climbs Back
The Rust Belt was hit more severely in the downturn as manufacturers intensified a strategy of moving jobs overseas and replacing employees with automation. Ohio, Illinois and Michigan have reclaimed about a quarter to a third of their lost jobs as a result of the auto rebound, strong exports of factory machinery and efforts to diversify decades-old industrial bases.
While Michigan has led the auto rebound, the nascent lithium battery industry has fizzled because of weak electric vehicle sales. The state has lost more than 10% of its population, which has shrunk its tax base and contributed to an 8% decline in state and local government payrolls. Michigan's employment is still 7% off its peak.
Ohio has fared somewhat better -- payrolls are 5.1% below peak -- thanks in part to a diverse economy that features a roaring steel industry that's supplying area natural gas drillers and the growth of a biomedical cluster in Cleveland.
The Columbus area -- a mix of corporate headquarters, manufacturers, universities and health care facilities -- has nearly recovered all the jobs it lost in the slump. Kenny McDonald of Columbus 2020, an economic development group, largely credits an aggressive effort to persuade 200 companies to locate or expand in the area over the past 18 months.
Quantum Health, a 280-employee manager of health benefit plans for corporations, has added 50 workers so far this year and plans to hire another 475 by 2014, says CEO Kara Trott. The firm was considering moving to Texas or Colorado to tap a larger pool of bilingual job candidates but was swayed by about $7 million in city and county incentives.
Housing-bust States Lag
States hurt most in the real estate crash -- Nevada, Florida, Arizona and California -- have made small strides in recovering their lost jobs, but are among the furthest from their peak employments. The bust crushed household wealth and slashed construction industry payrolls by nearly half or more.
Few of those construction jobs have returned. And plummeting real estate values and property taxes have forced the states to chop state and local government payrolls.
Yet a technology boom in Northern California is aiding that state's recovery. Gumas Advertising in San Francisco has boosted its staff from 14 to 22 this year to handle new business from social media and other tech firms, says CEO John Gumas.
And travel and tourism is leading a modest recovery in all four states. Florida has recouped nearly 70% of jobs lost in leisure and hospitality on increased business travel, according to BLS and the West Palm Beach Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Still, a sense of caution pervades the business community, says Dennis Grady, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of the Palm Beaches. Russell Greene, CEO of Grand Bank, trimmed his staff to 62 from 100 as capital shrank to $16 million from $50 million. And while small-business loan applications have increased lately, he hasn't opened the lending spigots.
"Years ago, you basically looked somebody in the eyes and if it looked like they were going to repay you, you gave him the loan," he says. "Things have changed quite a bit."
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