There were two pieces of good economic news for the Columbus metro area Thursday.
The city’s unemployment rate dropped from 8.4 percent March to 7.9 percent in April, its lowest level since 7.7 percent in December 2008.
And Columbus also came in No. 45 nationally out of 380 metro areas in economic and job growth rankings compiled by industry journal Area Development.
Among all Georgia communities, Gainesville was the closet to Columbus at No. 91 in the “Leading Locations for 2013” development rankings, with Savannah No. 144 and Atlanta No. 179. In Alabama, Mobile was No. 80 and the Auburn-Opelika, Ala., metro area No. 132.
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“That workforce piece is critical. We really have improved in that area,” said Becca Hardin, executive vice president of economic development with the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce.
The rankings included various data, including in-migration of more educated workers, rising wage and salaries, per capita income and overall job creation. Columbus was No. 59 a year ago and ranked No. 91 overall in 2011.
“It’s evidence of what the leadership team has been doing to focus on economic development efforts,” said Hardin, the city’s lead business recruiter. “It’s really a little bit of everything. It’s what’s going on, I think, with the quality of life things that we’ve seen transform our area — with the RiverCenter, with Columbus State University, with whitewater. We’re seeing more people moving into the area.”
Area Development said it set out to find the U.S. cities that are “emerging from the recession as economic front-runners.” It said areas that make it easier to do business are the ones that will succeed as firms look to expand as the economy picks up steam.
One basic number, the unemployment rate, shows that Columbus is heading in the right direction, with April’s 7.9 percent the lowest in more than five years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The city’s jobless figure of 7.7 percent in December 2008 came just over midway during the Great Recession. Economists say the recession began to sink its teeth into the U.S. economy in December 2007, when the Columbus rate was 5.5 percent. It ended in June 2009, with the local rate registering 9.8 percent, although the hangover from the U.S. downturn has lingered.
For Columbus, the Georgia Department of Labor said the metro area added 600 jobs from March to April, with its workforce growing to 120,100. There have been 200 job losses year over year, however, those coming in the federal government sector.
Two notable employers are in the process of adding positions.
Hostess Brands LLC, which is reopening the Dolly Madison Bakery on Victory Drive, is expected to begin testing production in mid-June in preparation for a July launch of churning out snack cakes. The plant will employ about 200 initially.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, meanwhile, has hired over a hundred people and is training them for various jobs as part of its expansion in Columbus. The insurance company said it will increase its local payroll by more than 200 positions.
The Georgia metro area with the lowest unemployment rate was Athens at 5.6 percent, while the highest continues to be in Dalton at 10.2 percent.
Last week, the department reported that Georgia’s jobless rate in April was 8.2 percent.