Originally created 05/26/05

Jobs decline in Augusta area



ATLANTA - After three years of employment growth, the Augusta area reported overall job losses for the first quarter of 2005, recording one of Georgia's highest unemployment rates.

The area's labor market, however, is expected to see moderate improvement in the future, according to the latest outlook from a Georgia State University economist.

Companies in the area are expected to increase payrolls by 1 percent by the end of this year and an additional 1.1 percent in 2006, according to a report released Wednesday by Rajeev Dhawan, the director of the university's Economic Forecasting Center.

In March, state labor officials released detailed information about Augusta's new, larger-metro-area designation, which grew from five counties to six as a result of 2000 Census population and commuting figures.

Burke County was added to the Augusta-Aiken metropolitan statistical area, which also includes Richmond, Columbia and McDuffie counties in Georgia and Aiken and Edgefield counties in South Carolina.

The expansion bolstered the area's previous reports of annual job gains. Hiring in 2003 was 0.9 percent more than the year before, and 2004 saw another increase of 1.6 percent. But in the first three months of 2005, the area lost 1,275 jobs, or 0.6 percent, when compared with the first quarter of 2004.

The construction sector took significant hits, losing 850 jobs, while manufacturing and financial employers also shed jobs.

"Most other sectors also declined," Mr. Dhawan said. Though it wasn't enough to balance losses from other industries, retail work proved to be a strong area, creating what Mr. Dhawan described as a "whopping 1,000 jobs" for the quarter.

Mr. Dhawan said Augusta is fortunate that its largest employer, the U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon, was spared from the recent base realignment and closure recommendations.

In 2006, the Army is expected to start a project expanding intelligence operations there that could bring in 500 to 700 new jobs.

Georgia's statewide economy received mixed reviews in Mr. Dhawan's analysis.

While tax collections, small-business hiring and export activity have remained strong, the job markets for manufacturing, technology and airline companies continue to struggle.

Mr. Dhawan said he expects the state to add nearly 74,000 jobs by the end of this year, though that is still slower than the level of activity during the hiring heydays of the 1990s.

"The big boys are not hiring," he said. "I'm banking upon the small businesses."

Georgia Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond said that though the state's job market has improved since the recession, the recovery is affecting workers differently.

"The hiring is not really as robust as it has been coming out of previous recessions," he said. "The new entrants, college graduates and others, are seeing an increased number of employment opportunities. Baby boomers who lost their job during the recession are struggling."

Reach Vicky Eckenrode at (404) 589-8424 or vicky.eckenrode@morris.com.

NOW HIRING

The Augusta metro area recently saw a downturn in employment. Here is a breakdown of recent job trends for the area and hiring projections:

AUGUSTA AREA

Current workforce: 212,100

2003 job growth rate: 0.9 percent

2004 job growth rate: 1.6 percent

2005 projected job growth rate: 1 percent

2006 projected job growth rate: 1.1 percent

GEORGIA

Current workforce: 3.9 million

2003 job growth rate: -0.6 percent

2004 job growth rate: 1.2 percent

2005 projected growth: 73,730 jobs

2006 projected growth: 85,070 jobs

2007 projected growth: 82,620 jobs

Source: Georgia State University Economic Forecasting Center

2005 jobs so far

Augusta's performance in the first quarter:

Construction and mining: Lost 850 jobs

Manufacturing: Lost 700 jobs

Financial activities: Lost 700 jobs

Retail trade: Gained 1,000 jobs

Transportation, utilities: Gained 225 jobs

Wholesale trade: Gained 200 jobs

Net area employment: Lost 1,025 jobs

Source: Georgia State University Economic Forecasting Center