Bay County business owners are preparing for what they hope will be a busy summer tourism season. Part of that preparation means hiring additional employees. Experts say job prospects are improving for those looking for work.
Buddy Wilkes depends heavily upon younger workers to run Shipwreck Island Water Park for the summer season. He began the hiring process in February accepting applications for 320 jobs.
He says, "We have a couple of application days that we do have here at the water park, and typically after those two application days, we're taking more applications than we actually need."
Like 175 more applications than he needs, from teenagers between 16 and 19; and it's the kind of jobs teenagers love.
"Particularly the lifeguards," says Wilkes. "They're out in the sun all day and so it's really a position that lends itself well to young people."
Wilkes' needs at shipwreck island are typical of most local tourist businesses this time of year.
Maria Goodwin is the Florida Workforce Service Director. She says, "There's several different seasonal trends that go on here in our local labor market. One would be we do see jobs coming open with the summer season - our big tourism season."
But this time last year, numbers were looking a little less sunny. Workforce Florida reported Bay Bounty's unemployment rate at 8.3% in 2012. This year, it's 6.6%, nearly a 2% improvement. And the age bracket most affected is the same group of kids looking for work this summer.
"It was tougher for them to actually find work because they were competing with people with more education and more work experience," she says - but for Wilkes, students are what keep his park running. He says, "That's our base employment so we need them desperately."
For anyone who hasn't finalized summer work plans, Workforce Florida is hosting a career expo Thursday at the Panama City Mall from 9:00am until 1:00pm. 30 businesses have signed up so far and Wilkes will be one of them.