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UWF Haas Center study: Northwest Florida workforces trail country in skills, education

The University of West Florida Haas Center recently completed research that suggests metro areas in Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Bay counties have workforces that trail their counterparts around the country in skills and education.

The Haas Center’s findings are presented in its new Job Skills Index, which ranks metro areas by how well they attract and retain educated and other highly skilled workers.

“This is one thing that can affect migration of skilled workers to a region,” said Soheil Nadimi, the Haas Center economist who conducted the analysis. “In areas that rank highly on the skills index, educated workers would be part of a cluster of skilled workers where it is more likely that they could develop professionally.”

Some key Haas Center findings:

The Pensacola area, which includes Santa Rosa County, placed 11th among of 22 Florida metropolitan statistical areas. The Pensacola area barely beat the average index score for metro areas in the state, but fell short of the average index score for metro areas around the country.

The Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin area ranked ninth on the list of Florida metro areas, beating both the average state and national index scores.

The Panama City area came in 15th on the list, with an index score below both the state and national averages.

“Maintaining high average wages is an increasing challenge for Florida,” said UWF economist Rick Harper, who oversees the University’s Office of Economic Development and Engagement. “Some of our fastest business growth has been in meeting the needs of tourist and retiree customers, and these sectors tend to have lower-than-average wages. That doesn’t create the labor force that will draw high-tech, high-wage businesses to the state. We have a pressing need to build skill sets that will earn enough to support families.”

The Haas Center has published an article with its findings on the organization’s website at http://haas.uwf.edu/Home/JobSkillsIndex2015.