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Unemployment hits a low in city, county

LaGRANGE – For months, financial reporters have been talking about how the nation has been recovering from the recession that hit almost a decade ago and is now on a path of growth, but what does that mean for the average job hunter here in the LaGrange-Troup County area?

Even with announcements like the relocation of Jindal Film’s research and development center to LaGrange, which should bring an estimated 240 new jobs when it opens, and Sentury Tire with an estimated 1,000 new jobs when the factory opens, residents still need jobs now. But recent numbers from the Georgia Department of Labor reveal indicate that the job hunt may not be as hard as it was a few short years ago.

According to GDOL, LaGrange had 15,342 people in its labor force in February of 2017, and of that number, 777 or 5.1 percent of those people were unemployed. Labor force numbers take into account all residents age 16 and up who are employed or actively seeking jobs.

In comparison, Troup County as a whole had 37,008 residents in the labor force at that time with 1,741 of those people unemployed or 4.7 percent, putting both the city and the county at a higher employment rate then the state overall with the state unemployment rate hitting 5.3 percent in February.

“I think the trend on employment is definitely moving in the right direction,” said Mayor Jim Thornton, who attributes recent improvements to the positive business climate in the city and county. “… I’m just excited to see some of the statistics bearing out to show the work that has been going on here.”

Thornton credited the LaGrange, Troup County Chamber of Commerce as well as other local leaders for what he hopes will be a continuing trend of job growth with thousands of jobs expected to open within the next year. But with the massive leaps in the number of available jobs comes the need for more people to fill those positions as they come available.

According to the county’s labor profile, 21,879 or 80 percent of Troup County residents who live in the county also work in the county, while residents of the county only made up 68.7 percent of people employed by local businesses in 2016. That seems to highlight reoccurring conversations between local politicians about a need for affordable housing in Troup County.

Local leaders have seen an increase in requests for building permits in the county and feel that the increasing demand for homes and property to build on is a sign of the economy’s improvement and have even reported some industries having trouble attracting enough applicants.

“From what I can see the economy has rebounded, and there is a lot of construction,” said County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews. “… I think it is just in general across the board that things are improving.”

In the county’s 2016 labor profile, major factories like Kia Motors and Sewon America stood out as some of the largest employers for the county, but companies like West Georgia Medical Center – now WellStar West Georgia – and Walmart also ranked as top employers by number of employees, According to county representatives, efforts are being made to prepare local youth to fill those jobs after they graduate in hopes that current residents will receive the maximum possible benefit of industries added to the area.

“We are working with the technical colleges and the schools to make sure that kids get trained,” said County Manager Tod Tentler. “We are doing everything we can to continue to train people to fill the jobs that we have.”

The massive additions of available jobs to the area recently from employers, like Interface and Duracell among others, have raised new questions from local leaders about the future of the area’s work force though, prompting the LaGrange-Troup County Chamber of Commerce to take a closer look at what kind of jobs and what kind of workers the county is attracting.

“The chamber has partnered with the LaGrange, Troup County and West Point Development Authorities and the Troup County Center for Strategic Planning to engage a consultant to help us analyze our current and future workforce challenges/opportunities,” said Chamber President Page Estes in a press release earlier this year. “We know we have gaps in our available workforce compared to the number of job vacancies, and this gap will continue to widen as we add more jobs to the local community unless we are proactive in our efforts.”

The chamber hopes to have results from the Avalanche Consulting study sometime in June.

The state as a whole has seen solid economic growth in the last decade with unemployment rates consistently below previous years with minor fluctuations from month to month. Georgia had a 5.5 percent unemployment rate in January, 5.3 percent for February and 5.1 percent in March. Experts attribute recent improvements to state unemployment to job creation within the state.

“The rate dropped as we saw more than 19,000 people become employed and Georgia employers continued to create jobs,” said State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler in a press release. “While the monthly job growth was stronger than our three-year average for March, our over-the-year job growth of 131,000 is the best for this period since 2000.”

National labor statistics likewise reveal a clear trend towards better availability of jobs in the US as a whole with unemployment at 4.7 percent for February of this year compared to 4.9 percent last year and 8.3 percent five years ago in 2012. During the height of the recession, national unemployment went as high as 10 percent in October 2009.

For a full breakdown of Troup County’s labor profile, visit https://explorer.gdol.ga.gov/vosnet/mis/Profiles/Counties/Troup.pdf