Franklin County saw another sizeable drop its unemployment rate for March, as it declined to the 5.4 percent level, sixth best in the state.

According to preliminary numbers released Friday by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the county’s jobless rate in March 2013 dropped seven-tenths of 1 percent, from 6.1 to 5.4 percent. Thirty-three people moved off unemployment rolls, shrinking them from 322 to 289 people in search of work.

The drop in joblessness occurred even as the workforce grew by 123 workers, from 5,238 to 5,361, which is larger than one year ago, when it comprised 5,281 workers, and when the jobless rate was sharply higher, at 6.9 percent.

Franklin County’s jobless picture placed it just a few notches behind Monroe County, at 3.8 percent, with the state’s lowest unemployment rate. This was followed by Walton (4.3 percent), Okaloosa (4.8 percent), Alachua (5.1 percent) and St. Johns (5.3 percent). Many of the counties with the lowest unemployment rates were those with relatively high proportions of government employment. Strong population growth was also a contributing factor.

Franklin had the lowest unemployment rate in the tri-county Gulf Coast Workforce region, which had a combined rate of 6.6 percent in March 2013. This rate was down 1.2 percentage points from February 2013. Bay County’s jobless rate dropped from 7.9 to 6.6 percent, while Gulf County’s declined from 7.9 to 7.1 percent.

The region’s March 2013 rate was 1.6 percentage points lower than the region’s year ago rate of 8.2 percent, 0.4 percentage point below the state rate of 7.0 percent, and a percentage point lower than the national rate of 7.6 percent. Out of a labor force of 99,627, there were 6,549 unemployed Gulf Coast residents.

“Unemployment usually dips during the spring in our region because that’s when our local tourism industry starts to get prepared for Spring Break and summer by hiring their seasonal workers.  This month’s numbers are especially encouraging because in Bay County we have not seen unemployment rates this low since October 2008,” said Kim Bodine, executive director for Gulf Coast Workforce Board. 

Florida's unemployment rate dipped to 7.5 percent in March, the lowest level in since October 2008 and a sign that the state's battered labor market continues to heal. The state gained 141,300 jobs during the past year, state officials said Friday. Florida's month-to-month job growth has been positive for 20 of the last 21 months.