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Halls jobless numbers plateauing
Area officials optimistic about job growth
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Siobhan Brennan operates the omni-cell supply cabinet on the orthopedic-neurosurgery floor at Northeast Georgia Medical Center last week. The new nurse began her “third career” in June in a field that is always hiring. - photo by NAT GURLEY

On this day celebrating workers, state numbers are showing Hall County’s jobless numbers laboring to return to where they were in prerecession days.

But Hall isn’t quite there yet, showing signs instead of plateauing in the 7 percent range.

According to Georgia Department of Labor records, Hall’s unemployment stood at 4.2 percent in April 2008. Then, the Great Recession, the nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression in the 1930s, took hold, officially starting in December 2007 and lasting 18 months.

Layoffs began and hiring stopped nationally, with Hall’s jobless rate hitting a high of 9.9 percent in January 2010. In the slow recovery that followed, Hall’s numbers dropped as low as 6.8 percent this spring. They’ve risen again slightly, hitting 7.5 percent in July. The August numbers should be released Sept. 26.

Whether Hall County regains its prerecession steam remains to be seen, but some area officials are confident Hall’s workforce will remain strong for the same reason it didn’t tumble harder during the recession — a diversified economy, or reliance on no particular industry.

“What distinguishes Hall County from a lot of other places is that our private sector employment is really high,” said Tim Evans, the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce vice president for economic development. “We don’t have a military base. We do have public colleges, but it is not the dominant part (of the community).”

Hall’s top employers include a wide mixture of economic sectors, from its traditional poultry industry to health care, according to the Labor Department. Others on the list include Kubota Manufacturing of America, Gainesville State College and Wrigley Manufacturing Co.

Evans said 26 percent of Hall’s employment base is in goods producing, “a strong and growing sector for us.”

“We’re about three times the state average in goods-producing jobs,” he said. “We’re very diversified in manufacturing, and that’s something we can be proud of, because they’re good-paying jobs.”

He cited a study last year by Garner Economics, an Atlanta-based economic consulting firm, that found the Gainesville metropolitan area is one of 23 nationwide — and the only one in Georgia — that had outpaced the nation in the employment growth rate every month since September 2010.

“Recent job creation has been supported by a very diverse and growing economic base of manufacturing, food processing, professional services, retail, education and world-class health care services,” chamber President and CEO Kit Dunlap said at the time.

“Gainesville-Hall County is a regional employment center for Northeast Georgia. We continue to develop the infrastructure and capacity to support business growth and job creation that will benefit family incomes throughout this region.”

Health care is generally considered recession-proof, with the Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia Health System showing signs of strong employment in the past few years.

In 2012, the health system hired 764 people. So far this year, it has hired 1,256 people, said Lee Alexander, director of workforce planning and employment.

“We haven’t hired this many people since 2008,” she said.

Alexander noted “nursing is where we are seeing our biggest turnover, and it’s because the economy has (improved) to the point that people are more comfortable changing jobs.

“People are having choices; whereas, earlier, they didn’t have as many changes. The market is more open to more people than it was two or three years ago.”

Siobhan Brennan, a registered nurse at Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, didn’t have to worry about a long, extended job search as she left Brenau University’s nursing school.

“I was very blessed,” she said. “I graduated in May and started here June 3.”

Brennan, 54, set out to be a nurse after a work life in different areas, including the mission field. After a layoff about 10 years ago, she decided to pursue a job in the medical field. Before becoming a nurse, she worked at The Longstreet Clinic, eventually becoming a medical assistant for an orthopedic surgeon.

“I love (nursing),” she said. “I’m very happy with my choice to do it.”

For those wondering about job options, “there are opportunities in the labor market for skilled technicians,” said Tim McDonald, vice president of economic development at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood.

There’s a demand for welders, computer numerical control machinists and industrial maintenance technicians, he said.

Many people have turned to Lanier Tech for retraining, while others are still trying to turn a four-year college degree into a job and finding the search frustrating.

Some of those emotions were vented last week at a roundtable discussion with U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, on job creation and workforce development.

And then there are workers like Byron Jett who are just trying to improve their job situation.

Jett, who moved to the area from New Orleans and ultimately would like to join the U.S. Navy, was on that mission last week at the Department of Labor’s office off Atlanta Highway in South Hall.

“I’m taking advantage of my day off to look for something more permanent and make a little more money so I can re-establish myself,” he said.

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