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Plant openings good sign for Georgia economy
Unemployment rate dropping
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Georgia’s job market has received a boost of confidence in recent months.

Since March of last year, Georgia’s employment numbers have grown about 1 percent, totaling about 35,600 jobs.
But more good news is on the way.

An additional 3,900 jobs are slated to come by 2020 at three locations in East Georgia.

Thursday, Gov. Nathan Deal announced that Baxter International, a global health care company that posted $13.9 billion in sales last year, will locate a bio-pharmaceutical manufacturing facility just off Interstate 20, about 10 miles east of Covington.

The facility will generate about 1,500 new jobs and has the potential for hundreds more.

“(This is an) opportunity for us to continue to grow our innovative sector in the state,” said Chris Clark, Georgia Chamber of Commerce president. “The impact of this is something we can’t even begin to measure right now.”

That facility will directly benefit Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties.

“It is a regional impact,” said Roger Harrison, Newton County Chamber of Commerce vice president of economic development.

“We’re going to see people driving from up to an hour away to come work here. So, all the counties around us will be impacted by positive employment gains.”

Deal’s announcement comes on the heels of recently announced plant openings in Braselton and Athens.

Carter’s Inc., well known for children’s clothing, will open a facility in Braselton, initially creating 250 jobs with hopes of employing 1,000 by 2015.

Heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar plans to build a facility just outside Athens.

Around 800 jobs will be available initially, with as many as 1,400 working at the plant by 2020.

“You’re looking at about 4,000 jobs between Carter’s, Caterpillar and Baxter, but in reality it’s about double that,” said Chris Cummiskey,

commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

“Caterpillar has about 1,400, but there are about another 2,500 in suppliers that are coming. So you’re talking about changing the whole dynamics of an area.”

Last year, the state announced a Mitsubishi plant in Savannah and Kia Motors recently opened a plant in West Point.

The announcements give the state’s economic leaders hope.

“As long as the international economy continues to improve and we don’t have some major problems somewhere in that global economy, I think we can all have a little bit of optimism here that we’re going to continue to see growth and continue to push the unemployment rate down and continue to see investments start to increase all over the state,” Clark said.

Economic leaders say Georgia is “very aggressive” in recruiting big business and works directly with businesses to address their wants or concerns, including tax breaks.

Caterpillar, Clark said, was interested in energy manufacturing sales tax and transportation reform. Georgia listened.

“We did that and we’re seeing the benefits of it,” Clark said.

Baxter chose Georgia for a variety of reasons.

The open space at the business park, the transportation logistics and the workforce development programs contributed to the business’ decision, officials said.

“There is no one single factor,” said Brian Kyhos, a spokesman for Baxter. “It’s really a combination of all the different factors that made Georgia and this site the best choice.”

Kyhos said the business park will give the facility space to grow if needed and could generate more jobs.

The growing job market will help boost an already improving career front.

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, since January the total number of unemployed residents has dropped about 10,000, just more than 40,000 since one year ago.

“Georgia’s unemployment rate continues to trend downward,” said Mark Butler, state labor commissioner, in a press release. “And it’s important to recognize that it’s done so as the number of people in the labor force steadily increased. This indicates a growing optimism among unemployed workers that they will be able to land a job.”

The unemployment rate for the state is at 9 percent — the lowest it has been since February 2009, when it was 8.9 percent.

The nation’s unemployment rate, as of March 2012, is at 8.2 percent, down from 8.3 percent in February.

That improvement, in Georgia, is mainly due to existing industry growth.

But, leaders say, the announcements of new industry could have an immediate impact on the communities.

“When you have an announcement like this, even though they’re not hiring anyone today, it does have an effect,” Clark said. “Suppliers in that area, construction companies in that area, everybody that wants to get business, they start ramping up. ... So you have a little bit of an immediate effect just from a confidence standpoint.”

But Georgia won’t slow its search for more industry and will try to separate itself from the competition, both nationally and internationally, officials said.

“When you look at Baxter and Caterpillar, two names in their industries that are leaders, it says a lot,” Cummiskey said. “We got a couple home runs and we’ll continue to get more, but in the meantime we’re going work on our singles and doubles and maybe a triple here and there. Our main goal is to keep the momentum going.”