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Columbus metro area unemployment rate slips to 8.9 percent in February

The Columbus metropolitan area unemployment rate continued its downward trend in February, slipping to a preliminary 8.9 percent from 9 percent in January.

A year ago, the city’s rate was 9.7 percent and compares to the current 9.1 percent statewide rate, the Georgia Department of Labor reported today.

There were fewer layoffs locally in several sectors, the department said, including manufacturing, construction, trade, administrative and support services. Other areas that continue to heal from the Great Recession include the hospitality sector’s lodging and food services. Transportation and warehousing also saw fewer job cuts.

The rate is sliding lower in Columbus as some manufacturers indicate they will be hiring. Earlier this month, Milton, Ga.-based Exide Technologies said it plans to increase its work force from an existing 145 to 250 by early next year as it markets a high-tech, energy-efficient battery for the automotive market.

On Wednesday, Duluth, Ga.-based NCR Corp. unveiled plans to expand its Columbus operation into a former Cessna Aircraft plant in Muscogee Technology Park. The 100,000-square-foot facility is expected to employ about 100, manufacturing electronic point of sale systems for the retail restaurant and hospitality industry.

“We took advantage of this building that is turnkey and pristine,” said Rick Marquardt, NCR senior vice president for global operations. The company already has 500 on its payroll at an ATM assembly plant in Corporate Ridge Business Park in east Columbus. NCR’s goal is to push employment to 870 combined at both sites.

The labor department noted that Georgia’s rate has declined for seven straight months, with February’s 9.1 percent the lowest it has been in three years. The state added 15,600 jobs last month, it said.

The unemployment gulf between the metro areas remains wide, however. University of Georgia and government hub Athens has the lowest rate at 7 percent, while Dalton, once known as a carpet-making capital, is the highest at 12.3 percent.

Breaking down jobless rates in local counties in Georgia, Muscogee came in at 9 percent, Harris at 7.2 percent, Troup at 10.3 percent, Chattahoochee at 17.2 percent, Meriwether at 11.4 percent, Talbot at 9.8 percent, Taylor at 12.5 percent, Marion at 8.1 percent, Stewart at 11.3 percent and Webster at 8.3 percent.

METRO AREA RATES

Here are the February 2012 rates, from lowest to highest, for Georgia’s metropolitan areas:

Athens — 7 percent

Gainesville — 7.6 percent

Warner Robins — 7.6 percent

Savannah — 8.7 percent

Valdosta — 8.8 percent

Columbus — 8.9 percent

Atlanta — 9 percent

Hinesville — 9 percent

Augusta — 9.1 percent

Macon — 9.8 percent

Albany — 10 percent

Brunswick — 10.5 percent

Rome — 10.9 percent

Dalton — 12.3 percent

Ledger-Enquirer staff writer Mike Owen contributed to this report.

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