The demand for The Villages lifestyle is helping the job market in Sumter County recover faster than much of Florida. Construction in the developing areas of The Villages south of State Road 44 has roared back to life and many contractors are adding new employees to keep up with the pace. “We’re looking for good people who want to work,” said Terry Yoder, CEO of T&D Family of Companies. “We’re all just trying to keep up.” Galaxy Home Solutions is also in hiring mode. “We hired 30 people in the last month and we’re still looking to bring in more,” said Steve Munz, owner of Galaxy Home Solutions. MiCo Customs recently became the first business to open its new headquarters at the Gov. Rick Scott Industrial Park and is adding new jobs.
Rainey Construction has a need for new commercially licensed drivers and found high-profile ways to announce the openings. Rainey dump trucks were lined up to establish a perimeter at last month’s rallies in The Villages by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence. Banners advertising the job openings could be seen hanging from several trucks.
“We’re just trying to get the word out,” said Rainey manager Sherman Manly. “Somebody attending the event might be looking for a job or know of somebody, a relative or a friend, who’s looking for an opportunity.”
The company also has signs advertising the openings posted along County Road 470, where land clearing is happening at a fast pace. Rainey is also hiring for several other positions.
“We’re looking to bring in people at every position — operators, laborers, foremen,” Manly said. “We have a full plate when you look at what’s going on south of 470 with the commercial development The Villages announced earlier this year.”
Local companies like those have helped lower Sumter’s unemployment numbers after peaking earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
A recent report from the state Department of Economic Opportunity showed Sumter’s unemployment rate for September stood at 6%, an improvement from 6.4% in August. Statewide the unemployment rate was at 7.6% for September, up from 7.3% in August. The national rate for September was 7.9%.
The local construction industry is one of the primary reasons why the county is experiencing a quicker recovery than many other areas in Florida said Frank Calascione, Sumter County economic development director.
“The rate of growth and active construction in commercial, industrial, and residential sectors are certainly driving our job numbers,” he said. “Additionally, the large infrastructure projects that are underway all across the county related to our growth drive the sales of goods and services which then drive job numbers as well.”
Yoder said The Villages deserves much of the credit for keeping area residents employed.
“We are so blessed in this community that we have The Villages and that the Developer had the foresight to plan for the future here in Sumter County,” Yoder said.
Yoder said while work did slow during the spring and early summer, production has ramped back up to pre-pandemic levels.
“In March and April when the virus first hit and things were shutting down, there were a lot of unknowns,” Yoder said. “And the unknown can be awful scary. But we had faith and we were able to ride that wave. Now we’re right back to where we were and we’re able to provide jobs and put people back to work.”
Munz said the projects already in the works were important to getting back to a sense of normalcy.
“I credit the constant drive spearheaded by The Villages,” Munz said. “If you look at Sumter County, we have good-quality growth because of the planning of The Villages and our wonderful county commission. So, once the COVID shutdown ended, people knew there would still be a need for a workforce.”
Munz was able to keep all of his employees on the payroll at Galaxy Home Solutions thanks in part to some creative thinking.
“One thing we were able to do was go in a different direction and we started doing sanitizing work,” Munz said. “We saw it as a need and a way to keep going.”
Galaxy is continuing to offer sanitizing services at The Villages town squares now that nightly entertainment has resumed.
Calascione said projects underway prior to March certainly gave the county a boost when it came time to get back to work.
“We had several large industrial and commercial projects that were already in motion before the virus situation took hold,” he said. “There were some delays but the majority have moved forward and have been completed or are wrapping up now.”
One of those projects was development of the Gov. Rick Scott Industrial Park, a 431-acre industrial-manufacturing center south of Coleman.
MiCo Customs, a diversified construction services company, became the first business to open its new headquarters at the industrial park.
Several businesses are in line to become the next to join MiCo at the location including: The Villages Daily Sun, a new printing plant; The Villages Commercial Design Division, a new warehouse for interior and architecture design needs; and DZ Block, a concrete block manufacturing company. Each is expected to be operational during the next 12 months or so.
“It’s going to be fantastic out here when we’re all done together,” said Mike Manly, president of MiCo Customs. “It’s very exciting.”
Manly said the company will be continuing to add jobs as it gets settled into its new headquarters.
“We’ve already added some and we expect to add more,” he said.
The new location at the industrial park is ideal, he said.
“It puts us in a perfect position logistically,” Manly said. “It puts us right in the middle of everything.”
Calascione said the industrial park will provide jobs, starting with the current construction jobs, followed by the permanent jobs coming to the site.
“The industrial park offers hundreds of acres of development opportunities, which translates into hundreds of good-paying jobs for our area and continues to diversify our tax base,” he said.
There remains optimism the job situation in the county will only continue to improve.
“A lot of the workforce that did get laid off are now looking for different opportunities,” Munz said. “And we’re happy to be able to offer them those opportunities so long as the growth continues due to The Villages expansion.”
Specialty Editor Keith Pearlman can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5347, or firstname.lastname@example.org