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Tennessee and Georgia added jobs at a faster pace than the rest of the country last year, but both states still ended 2014 with a higher unemployment rate than the U.S. average.

Unemployment in Tennessee fell last month by two-tenths of a percentage point to 6.6 percent, while Georgia's jobless rate last month fell by three-tenths of a percentage point to 6.9 percent.

"This was the first time in eight years that we've had job growth in December," Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said.

But both Tennessee and Georgia continued to have unemployment rates last month well above the U.S. as a whole, which averaged a 5.6 percent jobless rate in December.

Despite the higher unemployment rates in both states -- based upon household surveys conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics -- the number of employed people rose by 2.7 percent last year in Georgia and 2.4 percent in Tennessee. Those job gains added a combined 174,400 jobs in the two states from December 2013 to December 2014.

"We're seeing signs of solid job growth in nearly all sectors and 2014 turned out to be a very good year," said Bill Fox, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee. "I'm as optimistic about the economic outlook for 2015 as I have been at any time since before the economic recession."

Butler said jobs in Georgia grew by 3 percent or more in the past year among employers in hospitality, construction, trade and business services. In Tennessee, job growth jumped by more than 10 percent in the past year among employers in trade, construction and business services.

Nationwide, jobs grew at a 2.2 percent pace last year.

The improving job market helped boost weekly manufacturing wages paid in Tennessee last month to an average $760.80, up $9.34 a week from the previous month, according to figures released Thursay by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

"We haven't seen much in wage gains yet as unemployment has declined, but we're getting closer to the level where employers, in more instances, will have to pay more to fill key positions," Fox said.

In the Chattanooga region, Volkswagen is planning to add 2,000 jobs as it ramps up for production of a Sports Utility Vehicle and carpet manufacturers continue to add staff to keep pace with rising sales of floorcovering products.

The Georgia Department of Labor announced Thursday that Mohawk Industries is hiring 90 workers for the company's expanded facility in Gordon County. The company is recruiting experienced tufting machine operators and mechanics and electronic technicians, along with sergers and sewing machine operators.

A job fair is planned from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. next Friday, Jan. 30 at the Agricultural Services Center, 1282 Highway 53 Spur, S. W., in Calhoun, Ga. Staff from the Rome, Ga., Career Center will screen the applicants prior to the interviews by the company.

Mohawk will conduct a background check and drug-screening test on selected applicants. Applicants must complete a company application, be prepared to interview, and dress appropriately to improve their opportunities for employment.

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

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