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Tough economy will persist for months, labor commissioner says
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Michael Thurmond, right, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Labor, listens as Mark Winters, the manager at the Gainesville Career Center, speaks during a Rotary Club meeting Monday at the Gainesville Civic Center. Thurmond spoke to the club’s members after lunch. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Georgia’s labor commissioner said Monday that it could be 12 to 18 months before the state begins to emerge from the economic condition that has driven unemployment rolls higher.

Michael Thurmond was the featured speaker at the weekly meeting of the Rotary Club of Gainesville at the Gainesville Civic Center. He said areas like Gainesville and Hall County have fared better than other areas.

"The Gainesville economy continues to be strong because you are so diversified with medical jobs, finance and manufacturing and less reliance on textiles," Thurmond said, adding that there are some sectors that are hard hit everywhere.

"Residential construction is really hard hit because of the real estate issues, and we’ve overbuilt in many parts of the state," he said.

Thurmond said there are challenges for the near term.

"Based on what I’m hearing from economists, both state and national, we could be in this trough for the next 12 to 18 months," Thurmond said. "I think unemployment will continue to rise throughout the remainder of ’08, and I’m hopeful that by the third or fourth quarter of ’09 we will begin to see it level off."

In his remarks, Thurmond said the state is facing serious times.

"We’re in challenging times in Georgia," he said. "The unemployment rate statewide is 5.7 percent, which matches the national average. We’re seeing layoffs across the state in any industry that is, in any way, associated with the housing industry. That includes real estate, appraisals, banking and carpet manufacturing. There have been a significant number of layoffs."

He said manufacturing also has been hit hard by the slow down.

But Thurmond drew applause for his long-term outlook for the state and nation. "America still has the most vibrant economy on the face of the earth," he said. "We have the hardest, most productive workers, and together we will work through this downturn. And in six, 12 or 18 months, the American economy will be the most productive work force the world has ever seen."

He thanked small-business employers for their contributions to the economy by hiring workers.

"When you provide a job to a man or woman, you’re not just providing them with a job, you’re providing them with a sense of dignity, hope and ability to self-actualize their dreams," he said.

Thurmond, who grew up in the Athens area, was elected labor commissioner in 1998. He previously served in the state House, representing the Athens area.

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