TAMPA — Hillsborough and Pinellas counties both had an unemployment rate of 4.2 percent in March, down from 5 percent a year ago and lower than the state’s figure of 4.9 percent. The state unemployment rate was down 0.1 percent from a revised February rate of 5 percent.
Gov. Rick Scott announced the March job numbers from a woman-owned small manufacturing company Beneficial Blends LLC in Tampa that plans to nearly quadruple its workforce over the next three years, from 20 employees to 90.
Scott said Orlando and Tampa continue to rack up the most new jobs and Erin Meagher’s Tampa coconut oil business is an example of the type of company making it happen.
Florida businesses have created 36,900 private-sector jobs since January, Scott said, a 3.2 percent growth rate that has consistently outpaced the nation’s for four years now.
While the overall news is good statewide and locally, some businesses are still struggling and making cutbacks. America’s Auction Network, a 24/7 live auction company located in St. Petersburg, filed a warn notice with the state this week saying it plans to lay off 192 employees on June 8.
In Pasco County, the March unemployment rate stood at 5 percent, down from 5.8 percent a year ago. In Hernando County, which has consistently had the highest unemployment rate in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater Metropolitan Statistical Area for several years, dropped to 5.8 percent from 6.9 percent a year ago.
Meagher, who calls herself “chief coconut” at the company, said she has gotten help from the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. to connect with employees, but has not taken any financial incentives to grow her business.
The former high school business teacher started her company six years ago and now imports two 1,000-liter containers of coconut oil per week from Sri Lanka and the Philippines to her 34,000 square-foot packaging warehouse, north of Tampa International Airport.
The coconut oil, which she calls brain energy, is packaged, labeled and shipped out to Publix Supermarkets under the Greenwise label and under other private labels to various businesses. She also sells packets of the Kelapo extra virgin coconut oil mixed with ghee, or clarified butter, a combination that can be added to coffee for a brain boost, she said.
Her manufacturing facility is certified organic, fair trade, kosher and vegetarian friendly.
The Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. assisted Beneficial Blends by facilitating connections to CareerSource Tampa Bay for workforce screening and recruiting services.
“We are near the top nationally in woman-owned businesses,” Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman said. She called Meagher’s business a win for women and for manufacturing, one of the areas Scott said the state is focusing on to diversify Florida’s economy.
Hillsborough County just invested in a manufacturing academy to help train work forces for that growing sector of the economy, Murman said.
Florida ranks among the nation’s top 10 states for manufacturing and is home to more than 18,600 manufacturing companies.