* Tennessee, 6.6 percent, down 0.1 percent
* Georgia, 6.3 percent, down 0.1 percent
* U.S. average, 5.5 percent, down 0.2 percent
Sources: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Georgia Department of Labor
Hiring activity so far this year in Chattanooga is the best Brad Hake has seen in the 16 years he has owned the local franchise of Express Employment Professionals, a temporary staffing agency that employed more than 5,000 Chattanoogans during parts of last year.
"We thought 2014 was great, but this year has been even better -- the busiest year I've ever had," Hake said Thursday. "The economy seems to be doing better. But a lot of employers are still cautious and uncertain about the future so they want to use us for temporary help rather than add to their staffs and risk having to lay these people off if the market changes."
For now, the economy in Tennessee and Georgia is adding jobs at the fastest pace in more than a decade.
The Georgia Department of Labor said Thursday that employers in the Peach State added 157,800 net new jobs from February 2014 to February 2015. Georgia's 3.8 percent growth in employment over the past year was more than 50 percent faster than the U.S. employment growth rate of 2.4 percent and was the highest rate for Georgia in nearly two decades.
"We hit a historical high for jobs in Georgia this February, which helped push our unemployment rate down to 6.3 percent," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said. "Our over-the-year job growth was the most we've had since the height of the Atlanta Summer Olympics in July 1996."
In Tennessee, employment grew 2.2 percent over the past year, adding 60,400 jobs from February 2014 to February 2015.
Tennessee's jobless rate last month fell to 6.6 percent. Despite the monthly decline, however, the state's rate was up a tenth of a percentage point from a year ago and remained one of the highest among the 50 states, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nonetheless, University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox said Tennessee's economy is growing at its fastest pace in more than a decade and is poised to add even more jobs in 2015. The business employment survey continues to show significant growth.
"We're seeing a very healthy growth pace, even better than the relatively strong year we saw in 2014," said Fox, director of the UT Center for Business and Economic Research in Knoxville. "With planned additions at Volkswagen (2,000 jobs in Chattanooga), Nissan (1,000 supplier jobs in Smyrna), and others announced but not yet in the market, we expect employment will continue to improve and the jobless rate should continue to come down over time."
Over the past 12 months, manufacturing employment in Tennessee grew by 2.8 percent, adding 8,900 jobs; construction jobs jumped by 6.4 percent, adding 7,000 jobs, and the hospitality industry grew by 2.3 percent, boosting employment by 6.800 jobs.
"We're seeing jobs added in nearly all industries, and if this continues, our challenge will be to find enough workers with the experience and skills employers are looking for to fill these positions," Hake said.
Despite the strong job gains in Tennessee and Georgia, however, both states had jobless rates well above the U.S. rate of 5.5 percent in February.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.