This week’s announcement that Mohawk Industries was laying off 366 workers in Dahlonega follows a trend of a decline in manufacturing jobs that has been occurring in Georgia for the past decade.
In January, Georgia had 423,708 manufacturing jobs, or 10.2 percent of the nonagricultural employment in the state. A decade earlier, manufacturing jobs represented 14 percent of the labor force. It has declined more than 22 percent during the past 10 years.
"That trend is mirroring what is going on at the national level," said Roger Tutterow, a Mercer University economics professor. "When you go back 20 years, Georgia had a greater percentage of its employment in manufacturing than the national average. Now, they’re pretty well close to even."
Tutterow said one of the state’s biggest challenges is finding work for displaced workers in manufacturing.
"Because manufacturing tends to offer higher than average compensation, it’s frequently hard for those employees to find comparably compensated positions," he said. "In some cases, they move to other communities where there are manufacturing jobs."
The loss of manufacturing jobs has long been a concern of Michael Thurmond, the state’s labor commissioner.
"It’s tragic to see so many high-paying jobs being lost either to overseas competition or the housing market," Thurmond said. "It’s impacting the American way of life."
Thurmond said situations like the one at Mohawk often give workers an opportunity to retrain for other fields.
"We have programs, like the HOPE grant that will pay for study at a technical college and the Workforce Investment Act that will provide for study at Lanier Tech or other institutions," he said.
Mike Moye, president of Lanier Technical College, said his institution has seen a number of manufacturing workers seek training for other jobs.
"We have seen students who are laid off or find their jobs are threatened to come back to college to get advanced skills in either their existing field or a new field," Moye said.
He said there is a demand for maintenance technicians who can perform a number of tasks in industrial settings.
"In the past, these were single-skilled people who were either electricians or mechanics," he said. "Now, industry is looking for a multicraft person, and we now have that built into our curriculum."
Thurmond said for employees who have built their career with a single employer, the loss of a job is often like a death. He said that workers should not be reluctant to accept the state provided assistance.
"We try to let people know they are not alone," Thurmond said. "North Georgia is a place where people work hard and support themselves and their families and are proud of that. Unemployment insurance is not welfare; it is for people who have lost a job through no fault of their own."
Thurmond said some programs will provide assistance with day care and travel expenses for commuting to school, while still giving affected people unemployment insurance. "This is how you keep your family fed and a roof over your head while you look for a job," he said.