* 5.4 percent in the Cleveland, Tenn., metro area, down from a peak of 10.6 percent in January 2010
* 5.6 percent in the Chattanooga metro area, down from a peak of 10.2 percent in June 2009
* 8.2 percent in the 2-county Dalton, Ga., metro area, down from a peak of 13 percent in July 2011
* 6.3 percent for the U.S. as a whole, down from a peak of 10 percent in October 2009
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Georgia Department of Labor
Unemployment fell across the Chattanooga region last month to the lowest level in six years as the economy continued to rebound from the worst recession since before World War II.
With business expansions unveiled by carpet manufacturers in North Georgia earlier this spring and a pair of plastic makers announcing plans for new plants in LaFayette, Ga., and Chattanooga this week, economists predict the local unemployment rate should continue to drop below the state and national averages.
"Certainly, the worst of the recession is behind us and we think we're looking at a period of sustained, and even faster, job growth this year," said David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University. "We had a tough winter this year that held back some growth in the first quarter, but we expect to see faster employment growth for the balance of this year."
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that the jobless rate in the six-county Chattanooga metropolitan area fell by 0.9 percent during April to 5.6 percent. Neighboring metro Cleveland had an even bigger 1 percentage drop in unemployment last month to 5.4 percent.
Both areas had lower unemployment than the statewide and U.S. averages of 6.3 percent in April. From their recession peaks, joblessness has dropped in half in both Chattanooga and Cleveland.
Even in Dalton, Ga., -- one of the hardest hit cities in America during the recession with nearly one of every five jobs lost from 2007 to 2012 -- jobs are coming back. The Georgia Department of Labor said Dalton added 400 jobs last month -- and 600 jobs over the past year -- to cut the jobless rate to 8.2 percent. A year ago, Dalton's jobless rate was still in double-digit levels at 10.3 percent and less than three years ago Dalton's jobless rate soared to 13 percent.
"Housing and construction has been coming back and that is helping the carpet and home building industries in Dalton and Northwest Georgia to show some real gains after years of losses," said Jeff Humphreys, director of the Center for Economic Growth at the University of Georgia. "Overall, Georgia seems to be growing faster right now than the U.S. as a whole, although it started from a deeper hole."
The regional economy is being buoyed by the hiring of more than 3,000 workers by Shaw, Mohawk, Beaulieu, GE Roper and Whirlpool -- carpet and appliance manufacturers gaining sales from the improving home market.
This week, Audia International also announced plans to build a $50 million plastics plant in LaFayette and Plastic Omnium Auto Exteriors unveiled plans for a $65 million plastics plant in Chattanooga. Both will serve the growing automotive market in the South, including the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga that may soon add a second vehicle line with hundreds more workers.
Across the Chattanooga region, the bedroom communities in North Georgia had the lowest jobless rates last month while rural counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia had the highest rates. But for the first time in five years last month, no county in the region had unemployment above 10 percent.
The lowest unemployment in Chattanooga during April was in Catoosa County, where the jobless rate fell by two-tenths of a percent of 4.9 percent to the third lowest among Georgia's 159 counties. That was the first time any area county had unemployment under 5 percent since before the recession began in 2007.
Keith Greene, an electrical engineer and chairman of the Catoosa County Commission, said Catoosa County is benefiting as a bedroom community for workers landing jobs in nearby cities like Chattanooga and Dalton and also is gaining jobs and business from major new retail additions.
"We have a pretty well educated workforce with good schools in Catoosa County so most of our residents are able to get out and find work opportunities, especially as the economy gets better and we continue to add more development in our area," Greene said.
Costco opened a 100,000-square-foot superstore along Interstate 75 four years ago that employs 150 workers. Cabela's is preparing to open a 70,000-square-foot superstore in Fort Oglethorpe that will employ 140 workers by 2015.
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.