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Georgia’s jobless rate falls to 9.2 percent

It’s a sign the economy is rebounding.

Mark Butler, Georgia’s labor commissioner, recently announced that the state’s unemployment rate dropped for the sixth consecutive month in January, to 9.2 percent –– the lowest since March 2009, when unemployment was at 9.1 percent.

Butler said the rate decreased because about 13,000 more Georgians found employment in January than in December 2011.

New numbers show that 83,700 jobs were gained in Georgia in the last 12 months, he said. These numbers demonstrate the largest job growth since 2006.

“This job growth shows that Georgia is headed in the right direction,” said Butler. “The business services sector, which includes temporary employment agencies, showed the most growth. Economists consider this to be a leading indicator that businesses are gaining confidence in the economy, and are beginning to grow their businesses.”

Mark Watson, director of workforce statistics and economic research for the State Department of Labor, added that preliminary data shows that, as of December 2011, Clayton County’s unemployment rate was at 11.8 percent and Henry County’s was 9.9 percent. Both counties had higher rates than the state.

“Clayton County has one of the higher unemployment rates in the Atlanta metro area,” he said.

Grant Wainscott, director of economic development in Clayton County, said the county will focus on its top four business sectors to boost its job numbers. The sectors are: transportation and logistics, aviation aerospace, food manufacturing and distribution, and bio/life science and healthcare.

“It’s kind of a perfect storm ... but it really does force us to evaluate what we are really good at,” he said.

He said part of what has caused Clayton County’s high unemployment rate is the closing of Fort Gillem, where surrounding small businesses suffered because they counted on customers who were soldiers and contractors.

The retail sector has also suffered in the county, with stores, such as Jonesboro’s Kmart and Food Lion closing, according to Wainscott.

On a positive note, he said, a face lift of State Road 54/Jonesboro Road is currently in progress. The first business to be a part of this boost is a QuikTrip c-store, which is being built on the corner of State Road 54 and Battle Creek Road in Morrow. It’s one of the first of its kind in the Atlanta market.

He said since QuikTrip broke ground for the c-store, Heritage Cadillac has invested millions of dollars to remodel its facility. The car dealership is also located on State Road 54/Jonesboro Road in Morrow.

Kay Pippin, president of the Henry County Chamber of Commerce, said, in order to improve Henry’s jobless rate, the county is “working toward being the best location for the jobs of the future, and that includes our need to improve our transportation and technology infrastructure.”

For Henry County, she said, the top four business sectors are: logistics, health care, education, and the service sector.

Though Henry was experiencing rapid growth in 1999 and 2000, the Great Recession halted that expansion and prosperity, said Pippin. “We were very fortunate that our economy was sufficiently diversified that we continue to have a vibrant economy where many businesses continue to thrive, and we are continuing to attract new businesses.”

According to the State Department of Labor, a variety of business sectors demonstrated statewide growth over the year, including professional and business services, which gained 37,000 jobs; the retail trade, which produced 15,100 jobs; health care and social assistance, which created 11,100 jobs, and manufacturing, which grew by 7,300 jobs.

In Georgia, there were 900 fewer long-term, unemployed workers from December to January, putting the overall number at 244,200. Metro Atlanta experienced the greatest gain in jobs, compared to other metro areas in the state, producing 68,400 jobs between January 2011 and January 2012.

Despite the decline in the state’s unemployment rate, the number of first-time unemployment insurance benefit claims increased to 77,756 in January, from 63,714 claims in December 2011— a rise of 22 percent. Most of the increase in claims is due to seasonal layoffs in retail trade and construction, officials said.