The unemployment picture continued to improve in February for both Columbus and Georgia as a whole, according to data released today by the state.
The Georgia Department of Labor reported that the state’s jobless rate slipped from 9.2 percent in January to 9.1 percent last month. That’s on par with the 9.1 percent rate in March 2009 and marks the seventh straight month the state’s rate has declined. In February a year ago the rate was 9.9 percent.
Labor Commissioner Mark Butler, in a statement, called the data “encouraging,” pointing to 15,600 new jobs statewide, fewer layoffs and the apparent trend signifying Georgia’s businesses are moving “toward a comeback.”
Columbus, like the majority of the state’s metropolitan areas, saw its work force total climb, while initial filings for unemployment benefits dropped. The city’s work force grew from 116,400 in February 2011 to 119,700 last month, an increase of 3,300.
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Only Dalton, Rome, Augusta, Albany and Hinesville saw their job counts decline.
There were also 56 fewer first-time jobless claims filed by Columbus residents year over year, according to the data, with 1,095 people doing so last month. Hinesville and Warner Robins saw their initial filings rise.
The labor department noted that Georgia has generated 41,800 jobs over the past year. Contributing to that were the professional and business services sector, retail trade, education and health care and manufacturing. Butler was particularly happy to see manufacturing on the rise.
“At the same time, growth in professional and business services shows that business owners are feeling confident about adding new people,” he said.
Today’s statistics come with battery manufacturer Exide Technologies just last week saying it plans to increase staffing at its Columbus plant from the current 145 to about 250 by early next year. It already has added 60 positions to get the facility ready to produce an energy efficient and long-lasting battery geared initially toward vehicles that stop and start often, such as police cars, taxi cabs and ambulances.
Exide President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Bolch said he’s confident the payroll will grow as the product reaches the market and demand surges.
“The question is how fast,” he said. “We’re getting a ton of (market) interest today, so it could go very fast. We’ve built this plant to run at capacity, and that’s what we’re aiming to get to.”
One significant barometer in the state’s jobless outlook is the number of Georgians who remain classified as “long-term unemployed,” which means they’ve been out of work 27 weeks or more. That number has now dropped five months in a row, with 241,700 people in that category in February. They comprise nearly 56 percent of the 432,487 people officially unemployed, the state said.
The labor department is scheduled to release the February jobless rates for the state’s metro areas next week. The preliminary rate for Columbus in January was 9 percent.
METRO AREA WORK FORCE TOTALS
Here are Georgia’s metro areas and their February 2012 work force totals, followed by their increase or decrease from February 2011:
Atlanta — 2,316,400 — up 43,900
Savannah — 150,500 — up 600
Columbus — 119,700 — up 3,300
Macon — 96,400 — up 900
Athens — 84,300 — up 1,500
Gainesville — 76,600 — up 4,200
Warner Robins — 59,100 — up 600
Valdosta — 52,200 — up 500
Brunswick — 39,500 — up 100
Augusta — 204,800 — down 5,000
Dalton — 62,500 — down 3,400
Albany — 59,000 — down 1,200
Rome — 36,700 — down 1,200
Hinesville — 19,700 — down 300
* Source: Georgia Department of Labor