Those interested in new or better positions in insurance might want to grab their suntan lotion and head to the Southeast. They might also want to brush up on their Spanish.
The unemployment rate remains higher in key Southeast states than it is nationally. Over the past year, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee have all seen unemployment go down but some of the states in this region with the exceptions of Alabama, Tennessee and West Virginia still lag behind the national average in the jobs recovery.
But the Southeast economic and employment picture could be getting brighter.
In March, the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta reported that Southeast businesses were describing economic activity as “expanding at a somewhat stronger pace” in January and early February compared with late last year. Expectations were said to be “generally more positive, although firms continued to express caution with regard to the outlook.”
There have been other positive indicators as well. Middle Tennessee State University’s consumer confidence index rose in late January to the highest level since February 2008. The University of Alabama’s Business Confidence Index found business sentiment improved for the first quarter of 2012.
The Atlanta Fed said it expects 2.5 to 3 percent growth in the Southeast for 2012.
However, the Atlanta Fed also said that while many businesses are hesitant to increase their workforces. Most smaller businesses appear to be trying to rebuild margins before increase payroll. “So, even though economic performance and the business outlook may be improving, that improvement may not immediately translate into additional hiring for most firms, at least in the short term,” the bank said.
Property/casualty insurance, while not as large an economic factor as housing, manufacturing, energy or tourism in the region, tends to grow as other economy sectors grow and may be one of the bright spots for employment in the year ahead in the Southeast.
Several commercial lines oriented insurance carriers expect to be expanding operations in the Southeast this year. Patriot National, FCCI Insurance Group and Best Doctors are among the firms with openings in the Southeast and in Florida, in particular.
Several national personal lines powerhouses- Allstate and Progressive — are looking to hire in the region. Insurer USAA is hiring call center personnel in the Tampa area and has insurance openings in Georgia and North Carolina, too.
The region’s insurance agencies and brokerages may be even more promising for job seekers than insurance carriers.
According to an Insurance Journal survey of independent agencies, slightly more than a quarter (27.1 percent) of agencies in five Southeast states (Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama) increased their staffs in 2011, while slightly less (24.6 percent) cut staff.
For 2012, 28.0 percent of Southeast agencies said they expect to add staff in 2012 and only 5.1 percent said they would be reducing staff.
Some of the largest brokerages located in the Southeast, including AmWINS and Brown & Brown, were busy buying other firms during the past year- a better omen for the local economy perhaps than if they themselves had been bought out.
Some large national insurance brokerages from other states — Lockton and Confie Seguros among them — recently established offices in the region with intentions of growing.
Insurer Best Doctors and international broker Willis are particularly bullish on the south Florida area, viewing it not only as a growth market itself but also as a gateway to more business with Latin America.