Originally created 04/21/01

Area jobless rate will likely rise



Though March unemployment numbers for Georgia's metro areas won't be released for another week, numbers have risen in most areas for the past two months and the state's jobless rate increased to 3.7 percent in March.

Augusta-Aiken was one of Georgia's few metro areas with a lower unemployment rate in February than in January. But that might change soon.

A wave of job losses in late March and early April could spike the area's unemployment rate in May, although steady annualized job growth between March 2000 and March 2001 might offset the losses.

"If you have some job creation at the same time as some layoffs, it could balance out," said Sam Hall, Georgia Department of Labor spokesman. "Then again, those layoffs could make a difference. You have to look at the job market in its entirety."

The area will be hit hard by upcoming manufacturing closures:

Globe Business Furniture will officially close its wooden table manufacturing plant in Waynesboro on Friday. The area will lose 130 jobs.

Fire King International will close its Burke County safe manufacturing plant by the end of the month, putting 75 people out of work.

Rock-Tenn Co. will close its Augusta paperboard packaging plant by the end of the month, cutting 125 more jobs.

Bill's Dollar Store Inc.'s distribution center in Augusta officially closed April 1, displacing 94 workers. International Paper's lumber mill in Washington, Ga., closed in late March, eliminating 165 jobs and putting a strain on Augusta's logging community.

The effects of the layoffs on the work force will not be seen in the area's unemployment rate until those workers are no longer on the company's payroll.

"We're making companies aware of the buildings and the available work force through the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism and our own data base of consultants," said Kevin Shea, senior vice president for economic development with the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce.

"We're trying to make sure we can get companies in that can fill the space and employ the people."

The recent gains made in the stock market spurred by Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan's unexpected interest rate cut might bolster investor confidence and corporate spending, but Mr. Shea said not to hope for too much right away.

"We so have prospects right now, but they're fairly slim," Mr. Shea said. "We've certainly been able to tell the economy is in a downturn just by the small amount of activity and interest there's been."

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352 or jbanks15@hotmail.com.