The housing recovery helped cut unemployment in the Carpet Capital to the lowest level in four and a half years last month.
But Dalton's 10.3 percent jobless rate in March was still the highest among the 14 metro areas across Georgia.
"We've had some expansions by Engineered Floors, Mohawk and others adding construction jobs and many of our existing carpet mills are adding back workers as we see more housing and commercial activity," said Brian Anderson, president of the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce. "We're seeing unemployment come down, although with improved production methods it takes increasingly more production volume to add the same number of workers."
The Georgia Department of Labor reported Thursday that 200 jobs were added in Whitfield and Murray counties in North Georgia during March, boosting the number of Dalton area workers on the job to 63,100 in March. Dalton's jobless rate was down a full 1.5 percent from the 11.8 percent unemployment level of a year earlier and was 3 percent below the peak reached at the depths of the recession.
Dalton's carpet-based economy made metro Dalton one of the hardest hit metro areas in the entire country by the housing and building slump. Metro Dalton lost nearly one of every six jobs it had in 2006 before beginning to recover employment last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
With mortgage rates near historic lows and the economy on the mend, housing and building should recover strongly this year and next, University of Georgia Economist Jeffrey Humphrey said.
"Georgia underperformed the nation in the first three years of the recession, but we should outperform the nation this year," Dr. Humphrey said.
But Georgia's jobless rate may still hover near 8 percent by the end of the year as the improving economy encourages more workers to rejoin the labor market.
"We're in the beginning of an upturn in labor force participation as people see that the economy is adding jobs in nearly all industries," Humphrey said. "We may not see the jobless rate go down that much even though more people are working."
The private sector job gains are being offset, at least in part, by cutbacks or limits on jobs being added by federal, state and local governments.
"The private sector has gone through its painful deleveraging, but the public sector still has that ahead so we won't see much, if any, growth in government jobs," Humphrey said.
Across the Chattanooga area, the jobless rate was lowest last month in Catoosa, Dade and Walker counties -- the North Georgia bedroom communities within metropolitan Chattanooga.
Chattanooga's unemployment rate remained below the state and national averages, but upcoming layoffs of 500 temporary workers at Volkswagen, 80 workers at Alstom and 60 workers at Stuller Inc., could limit further reductions in the local jobless rate this summer.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340