Tennessee and Georgia job growth, business starts outpace U.S. rate

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Despite an increase in the jobless rate last month, Tennessee's growing economy still fostered the start of more new businesses and a faster pace of employment growth than the country as a whole.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that employers across the Volunteer State added 58,600 jobs in the past year - including 4,800 net new jobs last month - even though unemployment in July edged 0.2 percent higher to 4.3 percent due to an increase in the number of Tennesseans looking for work.

"Even with a slight increase this month, the unemployment rate in Tennessee has declined 1.3 percent since July of 2015, which is more than three times as much as the national rate," said Burns Phillips, commissioner of Tennessee's Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Tennessee's 2.3 percent growth in jobs in the past 12 months topped the national growth rate of 1.7 percent and kept Tennessee's jobless rate below the comparable 4.9 percent unemployment rate for the U.S. as a whole during July.

"What we're seeing in Tennessee is growth that is outpacing the nation and exhibiting a very healthy economy," said Dr. William Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee.

Manufacturing wages also edged higher last month in Tennessee, although labor rates in the state remained 18.3 percent below the U.S. average. The average manufacturing worker in Tennessee was paid $18.76 an hour and worked an average 43.3 hours a week, boosting average weekly wages by $6.80 from the previous month to $812.31.

In a separate report released Thursday, Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said business filings in the state rose for the 19th consecutive quarter. In the spring quarter, 8,9190 new entity filings were registered with the state, exceeding the quarterly levels reached before the Great Recession hit the economy nearly a decade ago.

The new business filings are a leading indicator of investment and hiring in the state since business startups fuel much of the growth in the state's economy.

"Our data shows economic growth will continue into the near future," Hargett said. "That proves more and more people are choosing to do business in Tennessee, which has one of the best business environments in the nation."

Davidson County led the way with the most initial business filings with 2,124, up 44.4 percent over a year ago.

But Hamilton County also showed a healthy 34.3 percent jump in new business filings this spring, rising to 588 in the three-month period.

In Georgia, the state employment agency reported Thursday that unemployment dropped by a tenth of a percentage point in July as employers across the Peach State continued to hire at one of the fastest rates in the nation.

But coming out of the state's worst downturn in decades, Georgia's 5 percent jobless rate last moth was still slightly above the U.S. rate of 4.9 percent.

The Georgia Department of Labor (GDOL) said the state's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in July was down 0.1 percent from June and was 0.7 percent lower than a year ago.

"The unemployment rate dropped as Georgia employers hired more people and created more jobs," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said.

Georgia's over-the-year job growth remained strong as the state gained 116,200 jobs, a 2.7 percent growth rate, from July 2015 to July 2016. The national job growth rate was 1.7 percent.

Despite the overall job gains, the number of Georgians filing for unemployment benefits in July was up 0.4 percent from a year ago with 35,639 workers filing initial claims for jobless assistance last month. Even as more jobs open up, others continue to be phased out, experts said.

In Whitfield County, unemployment claims in July jumped by 12.7 percent from a year ago and jobless claims were up 59.2 percent in Murray County. The Dalton metro area continues to have higher unemployment rates due to the slower recovery in the carpet industry.

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