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Florida gets more jobs, but maybe not the right kind

Kenny Malone Jan 30, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: In accordance with this year’s primary calendar, Florida Republicans are on the hot seat tomorrow. Voters will be thinking about a lot of things. Immigration, probably. Space policy, maybe. Jobs and the economy, absolutely.

The unemployment rate is just shy of 10 percent. Florida has added jobs the past year, though, they’re just not the right kind of jobs. From WLRN in Miami, Kenny Malone reports.

Kenny Malone: It’s 11 in the morning at Florida International University.

Samantha DeBianchi: Are there any questions from last week or anything at all?

About 40 students stagger into class like an invasion of zombies.

DeBianchi: Nobody’s awake today.

A PowerPoint starts up.

DeBianchi: Reasons for failure.

The sleepy students. The boring PowerPoint. That’s where the typical college experience ends. The professor, Samantha DeBianchi, is 27 years old. She’s dressed a little like AC/DC’s guitar player: short shorts, a white button-up shirt, black tie, black cardigan. DeBianchi is a former nightclub manager. And this is her nightclub management class.

DeBianchi: I would tell my doorman, nobody’s in the club, hold the door. Say it’s a private party, say we have some celebrity in here. Make it look busy at the door. Everybody wants what they can’t have.

Like jobs, in Florida. Right now, there are more than 900,000 Floridians looking for a job. The housing bust is still reverberating. Florida continues to lose construction jobs and, thanks to plummeting property values, continues to lose government jobs. It’s worth noting then, that the strangest thing about this nightclub class is the job prospect for these kids.

Randall Upchurch: We’re hitting that 90-plus-percent placement rate.

Randall Upchurch is associate dean of FIU’s school of hospitality. Nightclub management is just one tiny part of what the program offers. Upchurch says even during the worst of the downturn, FIU hospitality grads were getting placed.

Upchurch: The good thing is tourism is the major driver in the state. You know that full well, that’s kind of why you’re here.

Tourism has added more than 30,000 positions over the last year. In South Florida, about one of every four new jobs is in hospitality.

Tony Villamil: In other words, we’re leading in areas where we have a competitive advantage.

Tony Villamil is a former U.S. undersecretary of commerce and the dean of the business school at St. Thomas University. Last year, Florida added about 113,000 jobs. Not great, says Villamil.

Villamil: Usually, when you come out of a recession, you see Florida growing at 200,000 to 250,000 a year in jobs.

It doesn’t help that Florida’s top two growth sectors, hospitality and retail, are full of low-wage jobs. The average hospitality worker barely earns $20,000 a year. Villamil says knowledge-based, technology jobs fuel a true recovery.

Villamil: We need higher incomes and therefore higher spending and therefore higher economic activity.

Malone: Wow, this is a crazy office!

About 15 miles outside Fort Lauderdale, some of those higher-paying jobs are taking root at Saveology’s new corporate headquarters. The web-based marketing company promises to create 700 jobs over of the next three years. Their new offices look like Tom Hanks’s apartment in the movie “Big.” There’s a colonnade of free candy machines. A full-size putting green. A full-size basketball court. And…

Michael Wallace: Umm, one of the macaws speaking to us. Very Google-ish type of atmosphere.

Michael Wallace is the CFO of Saveology. Given the shortage of tech jobs, you wouldn’t think Saveology would need free gumballs and caged parrots to fill openings.

Wallace: We want the best of the best, not just what kind of economies of scale can we get because of a deteriorating economic marketplace.

Saveology is looking three, five, 10 years ahead, says Wallace. By most estimates, it will take about that long for the job market to fully recover. And for more Google-ish places to be hiring in Florida again. In the meantime, there’s always nightclub management class.

I’m Kenny Malone for Marketplace.

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