North Georgia's Carpet Capital isn't spinning out new jobs like it once did, but the jobless rate in metropolitan Dalton did decline last month to its lowest level in nearly five and a half years.
The Georgia Department of Labor said Thursday that 9.1 percent of workers in metro Dalton were out of work in February, the lowest monthly level for unemployment in Dalton since October 2008. But the decline reflects primarily fewer people looking for work, according to the new state employment data.
The number of workers on the job in the Dalton area was up by 100 jobs from the previous month. But the number of persons in Dalton's workforce fell by an even bigger 221. Over the past year, employment in metro Dalton has fallen by 171 jobs and the workforce has shrunk by an even bigger 605 workers.
With more workers searching elsewhere for jobs, Dalton's jobless rate has plunged from 11.1 percent a year ago to 9.1 percent last month.
Dalton's jobless rate declined in February despite higher unemployment in most counties in and around the Chattanooga region.
Among the 19 counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, unemployment rates last month were up in 10, down in six and unchanged in three others. The jobless rate was lowest in the region in Catoosa County at 5.5 percent last month even though unemployment in the North Georgia bedroom community rose by three-tenths of a percent from January. But nearby Murray County had the highest unemployment in the area at 10.4 percent in February, up 1 percent from January's level.
Despite the recent gains, Dalton suffered more than most metro areas during the recession and its aftermath.
At its peak in the summer of 2006, 66,549 workers were on the job in metro Dalton. Last month's employment total of 52,312, was down nearly 20 percent from the level of eight years ago.
Nonetheless, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., said the Peach State is improving its manufacturing sector, which is critical for Northwest Georgia.
"We've made changes in the past several years to try to restore manufacturing in our state," Deal said during a visit to a job fair in Rock Spring, Ga., las week. "We have removed the sales tax on energy that is used for manufacturing and that has been a great benefit to us in attracting new manufacturing and in helping those already here to decide to expand. That is particularly true in Northwest Georgia where we're seeing a resurgence in the carpet industry with thousands of new jobs from new plants being built and expansions of existing plants. We think the future looks very bright."
Manufacturers such as Engineered Floors, Mohawk Industries, Shaw Industries, IVC US and others have announced new plants and more than 3,200 new job opportunities in the past year.
Although Georgia's unemployment rate has remained above the U.S. average for the past five years, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler predicts the jobless rate in the Peach State should fall below the U.S. average by the end of the year. In the past 12 months, Georgia's employment has grown at nearly twice the national rate.
"We're seeing a lot of very positive signs," Butler said.
But as jobs return, more people are looking for work. At last weeks job fair in Walker County, hundreds of job applicants lined up and waited in line for hours for jobs being offered by 40 area employers.
"It's encouraging to see more jobs, but there are a lot of people still trying to find a job or get a better job," said Amisha Feetwood, a 28-year-old unemployed Chattanooga mother of five children. "I really need a job."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340