Chattanooga jobless rate falls to 9-year low

Chattanooga jobless rate falls to 9-year low

April 21st, 2016 by Dave Flessner in Business Around the Region

Jobless in March

Tennessee

* Bradley County, 3.8 percent, down 0.2 percent

* Franklin County, 3,9 percent, down 0.3 percent

* Hamilton County, 4.0 percent, down 0.2 percent

* Coffee County, 4.0 percent, down 0.2 percent

* McMinn County, 4.8 percent, down 0.2 percent

* Polk County, 5.0 percent, down 0.5 percent

* Marion County, 5.2 percent, down 0.7 percent

* Sequatchie County, 5.3 percent, up 0.2 percent

* Grundy County, 5.6 percent, down 0.4 percent

* Van Buren County, 5.6 percent, down 1.1 percent

* Bledsoe County, 5.9 pecent, down 0.3 pecent

* Meigs County, 6.0 percent, down 0.2 percent

* Rhea County, 6.3 percent, down 0.1 percent

Georgia

* Dade County, 4.9 percent, down 0.6 percent

* Catoosa County, 5.0 percent, down 0.3 percent

* Walker County, 5.6 percent, down 1.9 percent

* Whifield County, 6.7 percent, up 0.6 percent

* Murray County, 7.3 percent, down 0.1 percent

Sources: Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Georgia Department of Labor

Major job announcements in the past year in Chattanooga, and the projected employment gains from each project, include:

* Gestamp Corp., 1,401 jobs

* Yanfeng Automotive Interiors, 899 jobs

* Amazon expansions, 757 jobs

* Schnellecke Logistics USA, 692 jobs

* West Star Aviation, 461 jobs

* RemSource USA, 246 jobs

* Marketing Alliance Group, 170 jobs

Source: Younger Associates study for the Chattano

Unemployment in the Chattanooga area fell last month to its lowest monthly rate in nearly nine years as employers added 9,479 jobs in the six-county metropolitan area over the past year.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday the jobless rate during March in metro Chattanooga fell by a half of a percentage point to 4.4 percent — its lowest level since October 2007 before the Great Recession.

The jobless rate was even lower in metro Cleveland, Tenn., which includes Bradley and Polk Counties, where unemployment in March fell by two-tenths of a percentage point to only 4 percent — also the lowest since 2007.

The area jobless rate could drop further this year with ongoing hiring and expansions by Volkswagen and some of its major suppliers, including Gestamp, Yanfeng Automotive Interiors and Schnellecke Logistics USA. The automotive companies are gearing up for VW's production in the next year of a sports utility vehicle in Chattanooga.

As unemployment has declined, employers report that they are having a harder time filling job vacancies. A survey conducted by the Chattanooga chapter of the Society of Human Resource Managers for the Times Free Press found that a majority of employers responding to the poll said they expect to add to their staff this year and a fourth of the respondents said there are fewer job applicants than in the past to fill those jobs. With more workers on the job already, the pool of applicants is shrinking even as new jobs open up.

More than a third of employers said it is getting harder to fill jobs than in the past and nearly a fourth are having to look outside the region to fill available positions.

"We need more people available and willing to work," said Britany Sprayberry, vice president of sales for the Chattanooga franchise office of Express Employment Professionals, a national staffing agency. "There are certainly jobs available, but it's getting harder to fill those jobs we have."

Kenny Fikes, who opened a Chattanooga office of Labor Exchange last summer, said employers are going to need to do do more to provide transportation or relax bans on those with criminal records or previous drug problems to fill all of the jobs coming into the area.

"It's going to be very difficult to bring in lots of different manufacturers and new industries and staff them with local talent if we continue in the same direction we are going," Fikes said.

Among Tennessee's eight metro areas, unemployment was lowest last month in Nashville at 3.3 percent and highest in Memphis at 4.7 percent. Statewide, Tennessee's unemployment rate in March fell by four-tenths of a percent to 4.5 percent, staying below the U.S. rate in March of 5.0 percent.

Despite the addition of 1,400 jobs in the past year, the unemployment rate in the Dalton, Ga., last month rose from February's level to 6.8 percent — the same rate as a year ago.

The Georgia Department of Labor said the jobless rate in metropolitan Dalton in March remained above both the state and nationwide averages. Dalton's unemployment rate of 6.8 percent was up four-tenths of a percentage point from the previous month and was well above the comparable U.S. jobless rate of 5.0 percent and Georgia's statewide rate of 5.5 percent during March.

Among Georgia's 14 metropolitan areas, Dalton had the highest jobless rate. The lowest unemployment rate in Georgia last month was in Gainesville at 4.5 percent.

In a further sign of the improving economy, the U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell to a four-decade low last week, a sign that employers are unconcerned about weak economic growth in the first three months of 2016.

Weekly applications for jobless benefits declined to a seasonally adjusted 247,000, the lowest reading since November 1973. The four-week average, a less-volatile figure, dropped 4,500 to 260,500. The total number of people receiving benefits has fallen 7.6 percent from a year ago to 2.14 million.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6340.