Though Augusta’s unemployment rates are hovering near 9.3 percent, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler pointed to the area’s tech and health care sectors as continual bright spots in the local economy.
“Even in the worst days of the recession, the medical community continued to hire,” said Butler, who was in Augusta on Wednesday to speak at a CSRA Society of Human Resources Management meeting. “And it was strong again this last month.”
Government-sector positions are continuing to constitute the bulk of workforce losses both statewide and locally, Butler said before his speech to about 80 professionals with the organization.
According to the state Department of Labor, Georgia’s unemployment rate climbed to 8.8 percent in July, from 8.5 percent the month before.
Metro Augusta saw its unemployment rate rise from 8.3 percent in May to 9.3
percent in June, and the area’s rate was about 9.5 percent in June 2012. Figures for July won’t be released until next week.
Butler, however, referred to Augusta as leading the way in the IT field by embracing companies such as Rural Sourcing, a technology firm that opened in Enterprise Mill in late 2011 and offers employment in computer coding, software design, security and other IT jobs, which traditionally have been outsourced outside the U.S.
“That could really change the type of workforce that you’re going to grow here,” he said. “Augusta is well-situated. You’re doing some things that a lot of cities would like to be doing.”
In his speech, Butler told audience members that both the construction and manufacturing industries have rebounded and are seeing some of the highest growth figures in years. Suppliers also are beginning to follow manufacturing companies overseas back to American soil, he said.
“Imagine all the thousands of jobs that are going to come later as the suppliers slowly come back over here,” he said. “We’ve just got to make sure they don’t go to South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and Alabama.”
Butler emphasized the importance of cultivating a skilled workforce to meet the future demand for adept workers. He noted Georgia’s top technical colleges and university system as contributing factors for ensuring that occurs across the state.
Butler said his department also created a pilot program, GeorgiaBEST, in 2011 to teach Georgia students good business ethics, such as time management and proper dress etiquette. The program has grown from 20 participating schools in Georgia to 170 schools this year.
Butler encouraged the hiring of returning veterans, with about 50,000 to 80,0000 expected to arrive in Georgia within the next five years. He said any businesses that do so are eligible for between $2,400 and $9,600 in federal tax credits.
Butler also gave an update on the state’s remaining balance of $397 million owed to the federal government to cover a decade-old unemployment tax break for businesses. The debt, initially $1.2 billion, should be paid off by late 2014, he predicted.
Daphne Jones, the president of the local society for Human Resources management, said she was glad to hear from Butler that the job market was recovering.
“That’s always a good thing,” she said.
Group member and director of membership Judy Spencer said she agreed with Butler about the importance of having a highly-skilled and veteran workforce.
“We’re kind of where the rubber meets the road as far as hiring and attracting the best and the brightest,” Spencer said of the HR community. “When we do that for this area then that does result in additional economic benefits for this area.”