Caution abounds, but hiring continues in South Florida

South Florida CEOs say they're hiring for better times, but preparing in case the economy worsens.

Slower U.S. job growth over the past three months is contributing to an upbeat, but cautious, attitude in a state hammered by the loss of half its construction jobs.

"Employers are continuing to add jobs but doing it at much more modest pace," said Sarah Watt, economic analyst for Wells Fargo Securities. She said uncertainty about Europe and health care expenses are contributing to a slower hiring rate.

But if they hope to grow sales, companies eventually have to hire. "Workers can only be squeezed and technology can only help so much," she said.

In June, the nation added 80,000 jobs, compared to an average of 73,000 in April and May, according to government data. Unemployment was unchanged at 8.2 percent. Florida's job and unemployment numbers will be released on July 20.

Florida CEOs say they are more upbeat about the economy than a year ago. Forty four percent said economic conditions in the April-June quarter have improved compared with 2011 when only 26 percent reported better conditions, according to a survey by international CEO group Vistage.

Of the 2,400 chief executives, 46 percent said they plan to increase employment in 2012, while 49 percent said they will keep the same level.

In South Florida, company leaders say they're hiring, but keeping a tight rein on expenses overall.

Ken Lebersfeld, CEO of retailer Capitol Lighting in Boca Raton , said he is among the CEOs surveyed who are cautiously upbeat. His stores saw sales drop by 40 percent in 2008 and reduced its workforce to 150 from 220.

Now Capitol Lighting is hiring again, recently adding 18 sales people and managers, with plans to open a new store in Palm Beach Gardens in November. Employees now total 168.

Lebersfeld said the fourth-generation family business has its eyes on new Florida locations but is holding off for now. "I would like to see sales increasing, at least double digits," he said.

Chris Barton, CEO of Coral Springs-based telecommunications firm Wholesale Carrier Services, expects to grow revenues to $41 million this year from $35 million in 2011.

The company, which employs 42, plans to hire about six workers, including a product manager and sales manager. But to save money on data-entry workers, the company outsourced the jobs to a call center in the Philippines.

Devin Grandis, CEO of lighting and sign company Advanced Power Technologies, expects revenue growth of 25 percent this year over 2011. The company growth has been spurred by federal tax incentives for customers who invest in energy-efficient lighting, but those end in 2012.

To survive the recession, the Pompano Beach company reduced its workforce and froze salaries.

"We figured out like a lot of other companies how to do more with less," said Grandis, who has been wearing the additional hat of COO.

Now the company has 135 workers with plans to add 15, including a chief operating officer, project managers and field technicians during the next two months, Grandis said.

While it needs more office space, the company is waiting until mid-2013 to move. "We decided to sit tight and squeeze everyone into a smaller facility for another year," Grandis said.

mpounds@tribune.com , 561-243-6650

 

 


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