Cahlib Edwards, left, shakes hands with Food City recruiter Kathy Gray after an interview at a two-day job fair and career readiness program hosted by First Things First at New Covenant Fellowship Church on Friday, June 3, 2016, in Chattanooga. The program for high schoolers and recent graduates helps teach them how to apply for work and connect to employers.
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Unemployment in Hamilton County fell to its lowest level in nearly 15 years last month as local employers added 9,570 jobs over the past year.

The jobless rate in Hamilton County declined by another tenth of a percentage point in May to 3.7 percent — the lowest unemployment rate in the county since July 2001.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported the drop in unemployment Thursday, pushing the county's jobless rate to less than half the 9.8 percent jobless peak reached during the Great Recession at the start of 2010. Since then, Hamilton County has added 19,310 jobs to push employment in the county to an all-time high.

"There's definitely a healthy competition among employers to get the best workers right now and the labor market is getting tighter every day," said Tricia Hutchinson, manager of sales and marketing for HTI Employment Solutions in Chattanooga.

Despite this week's announcement of the shutdown of the GE Power factory — once Chattanooga's biggest employer — Chattanooga continues to add jobs from Volkswagen, Amazon, Gestamp and others. Such firms are planning to add 3 000 new jobs in the area in the next couple of years.

"Tennessee, in general, is outpacing the growth of the country as a whole and that is showing up in these job numbers," University of Tennessee Economist Bill Fox said.

In Bradley County, which boasted the lowest jobless rate in the region, unemployment remained at 3.6 percent in May. That's the lowest rate for Bradley County since May 2001. In the past year, Bradley County has added 1,760 jobs.

In the six-county Chattanooga metropolitan area, which includes three counties in Southeast Tennessee and three in Northwest Georgia, the May jobless rate also fell by a tenth of a percent, dropping to 4 percent. That was the lowest for the metro area in a decade.

The local jobless rate remained below both the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.7 percent and Tennessee's rate of 4.1 percent in May.

South of the border, unemployment in Dalton fell last month to its lowest level since 2007 as employers in the Carpet Capital added 1,200 jobs in Whitfield and Murray counties over the past year, state figures show.

Dalton's jobless rate of 5.3 percent in May was down has dropped by more than 60 percent from the 13.6 percent peak reached five years ago. But the Georgia Department of Labor said Dalton's total employment has yet to reach the peak levels of more than a decade ago.

As the supply of available workers tightens for employers, many are tapping into those wanting part-time or flexible schedules. The MomSource Network, a Knoxville-based staffing company that moved into Chattanooga a couple of years ago, is having success matching employers with those wanting shorter or flexible schedules, including many mothers.

"With today's advanced technology, employees don't necessarily have to be in an office eight hours a day to be productive," said Carlene Carrabino Vital, director of market development in Chattanooga for the MomSource Network.

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

Jobless in May

Unemployment declined during May from the previous month in nearly all counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia.


' Bradley — 3.6 percent, unchanged

' Hamilton — 3.7 percent, down 0.1 percent

' Coffee — 3.7 percent, down 0.1 percent

' Franklin — 3.9 percent, up 0.2 percent

' McMinn — 4.3 percent, down 0.2 percent

' Polk — 4.4 percent, down 0.3 percent

' Van Buren — 4.7 percent, down 0.1 percent

' Grundy — 4.8 percent, down 0.2 percent

' Sequatchie — 4.8 percent, unchanged

' Marion — 4.9 percent, down 0.1 percent

' Bledsoe — 5.3 percent, down 0.2 percent

' Rhea — 5.9 percent, down 0.1 percent

' Meigs — 6 percent, down 0.1 percent


' Catoosa — 4.1 percent, down 0.5 percent

' Dade — 4.1 percent, down 0.3 percent

' Walker — 4.6 percent, down 0.4 percent

' Chattooga — 4.9 percent, down 0.3 percent

' Whitfield — 5 percent, down 0.2 percent

' Murray — 6.1 percent, down 0.2 percent

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

This story was updated June 23 at 11:55 p.m.