Byline: KEVIN TURNER
Christine Shaw commutes from Hilliard to Yulee for her full-time job as assistant manager at the Yulee Burger King on Florida A1A near Interstate 95. She's worked there six years and has worked her way up from responsibilities at the counter.
"I like my job. I like working with and for good people," Shaw said.
John Thibault, who works at the Advance Auto Parts store in Callahan, commutes to his job from Folkston, Ga. He says the trip is worth it because he enjoys the community.
"I like the people here. It's an easy-going, laid-back town. There are promotions to management, transfers, everything's available, really," he said.
Shaw and Thibault represent Nassau County's two largest groups of workers: food service and retail employees.
According to the most recent state labor market statistics, 122 businesses specializing in accommodation and food services employed 3,773 people in Nassau County in 2005.
Retail trade workers were the next biggest labor force in Nassau County, with 231 retail stores employing 2,732 people last year.
Nassau County's workforce trends mirror the rest of the Jacksonville Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes Nassau, Baker, Clay, Duval and St. Johns counties.
According to Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation statistics released in August for the Jacksonville MSA, the biggest workforce group in the area - 21,000 - is retail sales workers. The second biggest, 13,020, is food preparation and service employees, including fast-food workers.
Those same statistics also reveal those two fields offer fairly low entry-level pay.
Entry-level pay in food preparation and service in the Jacksonville metropolitan area is $6.68 an hour, 28 cents above Florida's $6.40-an-hour minimum wage. The median pay in that occupation is $6.87.
In retail sales, the average starting pay is $7.51. Cashiers in all fields, which include food service and retail, make $7.04 to start and earn a mean hourly wage of $8.37.
Available statistics track wages in the Jacksonville MSA, but not in Nassau County specifically.
However, Nassau County Economic Development Board Executive Director Melanie Ferreira said she has heard some entry-level positions in those fields may actually be paid more in Nassau County.
WorkSource Vice President of Communications Candace Moody said that could be because of a lack of local affordable housing and recent high fuel prices.
"Gas is $3 a gallon; that's eating up some of the pay," Moody said. "It's a huge issue. We think the next big issue in workforce development is affordable housing."
Greater Nassau County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Louise Banks said it isn't surprising that most people who work in Nassau County work in restaurants and retail stores.
"We have a lot of tourism. We need to take care of those needs. But even if we didn't have as many tourists visiting here, we'd still have those needs," Banks said.
The Nassau County Economic Development Board is well aware of Nassau County's heavy employment in the two fields and is working to bring in other types of employment, Ferreira said.
"I don't think there's any question that most of the growth in Nassau County has been residential and retail over the last five years," she said. "That's the direction the county has gone in. I think those numbers speak for themselves. We're trying to reverse that trend, and that's our mission."
Another local trend the board tries to buck is the fact that 46 percent of Nassau County residents work outside the county; 80 percent of that 46 percent work in Duval County. …