published Saturday, January 7th, 2012

Dalton job loss among worst in U.S.

The recent closing of a Beaulieu of America carpet plant added to Dalton, Ga.’s overall job losses.
The recent closing of a Beaulieu of America carpet plant added to Dalton, Ga.’s overall job losses.

After 23 years at Shaw Industries, Stacey Todd was left with no job and a 10-year-old daughter to feed when the plant shut down in September.

She has looked for work since then, but Dalton, Ga., has lost nearly a quarter of its jobs since its employment peaked in April 2006. Jobs hit a two-decade low 62,600 in November, according to numbers released this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From November 2010 through November 2011, the number of jobs dropped 5.1 percent in Dalton, the second-biggest drop among the nation’s 372 metropolitan areas. Missoula, Mont., recorded the biggest job loss.

Todd and her daughter have been scraping by on unemployment, but their benefits are about to run out. Todd can file for an extension, but saving money to last past the benefits is out of the question.

“You put gas in the car, pay for a few groceries and you’ve got nothing left,” she said.

Todd is six weeks into a Virginia College pharmacy technician program. She hopes unemployment extensions will keep her going as she finishes the degree. She wants to be ready for when the economy bounces back, and doesn’t hold any hope for her old carpet job.

Companies like Shaw made Dalton the carpet capital of the world, often hungry for more workers than the city could provide. In April 2004, Dalton had a city-record-low unemployment rate of just 2.3 percent. In November 2011, that number sat at 11.9 percent, according to the Dalton Chamber of Commerce.

“Until the housing market recovers, Dalton’s not going to recover because so many of our jobs are tied to the housing industry,” Dalton Mayor David Pennington said. “Even as the industry recovers, they’re not going to employ the same amount of people they did five years ago.”

The entire state has struggled to recover jobs lost to the recession. Atlanta saw the largest over-the-year decreases in employment, shedding 13,100 jobs.

Already this month Dalton has lost 150 jobs following a Beaulieu of America carpet plant closing.

But Dalton isn’t dead. City leaders are looking for ways to diversify the manufacturing economy and created tax incentives for retailers and distribution hubs.

“You can’t just say, ‘There’s nothing here. Let’s close the town,’” said Dalton resident Angelica Lucero.

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Lucero has been looking for jobs since November. She said she put in 20 applications last month, but no one’s hiring.

Still, she’s staying positive. After filling out a slew of online applications Friday, she headed to a couple different companies she heard may be hiring.

“I believe. I believe this month is my month,” she said. “If it’s not this year, next year. We’ll still be here.”

Lucero may be right to be optimistic. Unemployment sat at 14 percent in October before dropping to November’s 11.9 percent, according to Elyse Cochran, executive director of the Dalton-Whitfield Joint Development Authority.

“It’s the bottom of the curve,” she said. “We have so many positive things going on to combat the negative.”

The county has big plans for Interstate 75 Connector 3. Officials hope the largely abandoned carpet shipping development with easy interstate access will attract high-end retailers and distribution centers like the Amazon site in Chattanooga.

The area added a Northwest Georgia Technical College campus in 2011, helping ensure the workforce is trained to attract those distribution centers and other manufacturing jobs to Dalton.

Ashley Johnson, who’s been looking for a job since October, is trying to make herself more marketable as she and her fiancee struggle to find jobs. The 21-year-old had to leave school in 2010 after becoming pregnant, but she’s now taking classes at Georgia Beauty Academy to learn a skill.

Since the baby was born, she and her fiance, Dustin Green, both have sent in job application after job application without any luck.

“Everybody in Dalton’s looking for a job,” Green said. “It’s hard to not get discouraged.”

But the two will keep searching. They have to if they want to give 9-month-old Tateyn the life she deserves.

“You just have to keep hope,” Johnson said. “I just look at my little daughter and think surely something’s got to get better. Something’s got to give.”

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