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PHOTO: Car smashes into McDonald’s west of Boynton

Construction rebound drives strong job growth in Palm Beach County

Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate ticked up in July, but the county posted robust job growth over the past year, the state’s labor department said Friday.

The county’s jobless rate rose to 4.5 percent in July, up from 4.4 percent in June but down from 5.3 percent a year ago.

Meanwhile, Palm Beach County’s once-tepid job growth has shown continued improvement. After lagging the statewide pace of job creation in recent years, Palm Beach County employers added positions at a 3.3 percent rate, outpacing Florida’s 2.8 percent pace.

Retail disconnect continues: Stores closing, but vacancies fall

The belated return of construction jobs is a big driver of job growth. Palm Beach County employers added 3,200 construction positions over the past year, a hefty 9.2 percent increase.

Large-scale homebuilding has yet to resume, but construction workers have been toiling at other types of structures, including apartment complexes, the parking garage at the Palm Beach County Convention Center, the Brightline railroad station, the Bristol condo tower in West Palm Beach and new bridges between West Palm Beach and Palm Beach.

Palm Beach County home prices hit $345,000, highest level in a decade

After a building slowdown that lasted nearly a decade, Palm Beach County’s housing engine is revving up again. In the largest project, Minto Communities plans 4,500 homes at Westlake, a newly incorporated city on the site of the former Callery Judge citrus grove. And in Riviera Beach, builder 13th Floor Homes is marketing 250 houses and 250 townhouses in a community known as Arbor Parc.

“The housing slump lingered a little bit longer in Palm Beach County,” said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo. “After years of very little improvement in single-family construction, we have actually cleared out the overhang of inventory.”

Other sectors that expanded over the past year were leisure and hospitality, which added 6,100 jobs, and the catch-all category of education and health services (5,300 jobs). Not all the news was good, though. Palm Beach County’s financial sector shrank by 1,600 jobs over the past year.

In another cautionary note, leisure and hospitality positions pay notoriously low wages.

“There’s always concern about the quality of jobs being created,” Vitner said. “Because tourism is a bigger part of Florida’s economy than it is in other states, Florida is always going to have more people working in leisure and hospitality.”

Florida continued to lead large states in job growth, the U.S. Labor Department said Friday in a separate report. Florida’s seasonally adjusted growth rate of 2.7 percent topped Texas’ 2.4 percent, California’s 1.7 percent and New York’s 1.5 percent.

Florida’s job growth has exceeded the national pace for 64 months in a row, Gov. Rick Scott said Friday.

“Over the past six and a half years, we have worked relentlessly to cut taxes, reduce burdensome regulations and completely turn around Florida’s economy,” Scott said in a statement.

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