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The pace of new hiring in metro Chattanooga slowed in the past 12 months compared with the rapid growth in the previous couple of years.

But unemployment in the Chattanooga area still declined during February and remained below the national average.

The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday that unemployment in the six-county Chattanooga metropolitan area fell during February by three tenths of a percentage point to 3.4 percent — well below the comparable U.S. non-seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 4.1 percent last month.

Jobless in February

In the 17-county Chattanooga region, the jobless rate fell last month in all area counties except Chattooga in Northwest Georgia where unemployment jumped during February to the highest rate in Georgia.

* Coffee, 2.9 percent, down 0.4 percent from the previous month

* Franklin, 2.9 percent, down 0.3 percent from the previous month

* Hamilton, 3.0 percent, down 0.4 percent from the previous month

* Bradley, 3.2 percent, down 0.5 percent from the previous month

* McMinn, 3.5 percent, down 0.6 percent from the previous month

* Catoosa in Georgia, 3.6 percent, down 0.4 percent from the previous month

* Polk, 3.7 percent, down 0.7 percent from the previous month

* Marion, 3.8 percent, down 0.9 percent from the previous month

* Grundy, 3.9 percent, down 0.3 percent from the previous month

* Dade in Georgia, 3.9 percent, down 0.2 percent from the previous month

* Sequatchie, 4.0 percent, down 0.5 percent from the previous month

* Bledsoe, 4.1 percent, down 0.6 percent from the previous month

* Van Buren, 4.7 percent, down 0.7 percent from the previous month

* Whitfield, 5.3 percent, down 1.0 percent from the previous month

* Walker in Georgia, 5.4 percent, up 0.9 percent from the previous month

* Rhea, 5.6 percent, down 1.1 percent from the previous month

* Chattooga in Georgia, 8.5 percent, up 3.9 percent from the previous month

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

 

In three local communities where automotive assembly or parts manufacturers have been strong — Hamilton, Franklin and Coffee counties — the jobless rate last month was 3 percent or lower and was below the statewide rate in February of 3.2 percent, which was the lowest rate on record for the Volunteer State.

"It is encouraging when unemployment rates drop in every county across the state," Tennessee Labor Commissioner Jeff McCord said Thursday in releasing the monthly jobs report.

Among the 17 counties in Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia in and around Chattanooga, unemployment fell in all but Chattooga County in Georgia, where layoffs last month pushed up that county's jobless rate to 8.1 percent — the highest of any county in Georgia or Tennessee.

Despite the lower jobless rate in most counties, the number of new workers being added to the workforce in Chattanooga over the past 12 months was only about 20 percent as fast as in the previous 12 months. In the past year, Chattanooga area employers added nearly 2,000 jobs in the metro area, but that was only a fraction of the nearly 10,000 jobs added in the previous 12 months in metro Chattanooga.

"Chattanooga and Cleveland had been growing extraordinarily fast in previous years so some slowdown in the growth rate is to be expected," said Dr. Bill Fox, director of the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. "I think the Volkswagen electric car line being added in Chattanooga will be a real boost to the local economy in the near future."

VW announced in January it is investing another $800 million and hiring 1,000 more workers to begin making an electric-powered vehicle in Chattanooga by 2022.

Statewide, job growth averaged 1.8 percent over the past year in Tennessee, or more than one third faster than the U.S. growth pace in employment of 1.1 percent in the same period, Fox said.

Williamson County led Tennessee with the lowest unemployment in February. The county's 2.2 percent rate is 0.2 of a percentage point lower than the previous month. Both Davidson and Rutherford counties in Middle Tennessee have the second lowest unemployment rates at 2.3 percent.

Unemployment in the state was highest last month in Lake County at 5.9 percent and Hancock County at 5.8 percent.

"Growth rates will probably be somewhat slower this year, but we expect the economic expansion to continue through this year," Fox said. "In a fully employed economy where everyone with job skills can now find a job, we continue to see growth and inflation remains incredibly mild. That's a good economy."

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

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