Management at Presidential Pools & Spas recently rehired a handful of employees who were let go when the company was forced to cut overhead.

“It was definitely a good feeling, being able to contact those people and ultimately bring them back,” said James Frabasilio, vice president of the Gilbert, Ariz.-based firm, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder.

The returning workers were primarily designers and warehouse staffers, bringing the company’s work force up to 70; however, that’s still more than 75 percent below where it was five years ago.

Frabasilio hopes to further fortify his work force in the coming months as business continues to rebound. Currently, Presidential’s volume is running 10- to 20 percent above last year. But it’s too early to tell exactly when, and to what extent, the firm can resume rehiring, Frabasilio said.

Large pool companies across the nation, particularly in the hard-hit Sunbelt states of Arizona, California and Florida, are grappling with similar dilemmas. While staffing remains down anywhere from 30- to 80 percent among many of the industry’s traditional power players, several report increases in leads and signed contracts over the first half of 2010.

Nonetheless, there’s growing uncertainty — and varying opinions — on when it may be appropriate to invest in replenishing a depleted work force.

After all, the economy remains a mixed bag: Stocks as of mid-May were performing nearly 20 percent above the previous year. And the Labor Department reported rising retail sales in April.

At the same time, U.S. housing starts in April fell from the previous month, and industrial production tapered off, too, according to the Federal Reserve.      

In Central Florida, Tampa Bay Pools has seemingly turned the corner. In 2009, the firm built 105 pools, then saw that number increase to 142 in 2010. Based on the first five months of 2011, Tampa Bay is on pace to surpass that total this year.

In fact, early projections led the company to take on a new sales coordinator in January. That means the Brandon, Fla.-based Pool & Spa News Top Builder now stands at nine employees, from a high of 15 several years ago.

But company President Ken McKenna Jr. said it would be another two months before he felt comfortable bringing on more staff.

“The last thing we want to do is bring someone in and have it be an aberration, and then have to let them go,” he said.

About 100 miles northeast in Sanford, Fla., Richard Moseley has cause for optimism, albeit the cautious kind. Consumers are ready to begin buying pools again, said the vice president of Champagne Aquatech, a Pool & Spa News Top Builder. Moseley noted an increase in promising leads through April, but he isn’t quite certain when the rehiring can begin.

“We’re stuck in the position of asking ourselves, ‘When and where do you hire?’” Moseley said. “We’ve been through the turbulence of the last three years — when was the last time we had a recession that lasted this long and was this hard?”