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Posted: March 25, 2009 12:00 a.m.

Newton jobless claims still on the rise

Number of businesses remain steady

Newton County’s unemployment rate continued to climb in January, reaching 11.7 percent, up from 10.4 percent in December. Newton County’s rate continued to outpace the state’s average of 8.6 percent, as well as the rates of the surrounding counties.

The county continues to be hurt by its dependency on construction and manufacturing, the two industries that have been hit the hardest in the area, according to Ralph Towler, a labor market analyst with the Georgia Department of Labor.

More than 23 percent of the county’s jobs are in manufacturing compared to the 10.2 percent average statewide, while 6.9 percent of county’s jobs are in construction compared to 5.1 percent statewide, he said.

Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce President John Boothby said the county’s manufacturing base has remained afloat with the exception of Komatsu America Corporation, which will close down its Covington forklift factory at the end of this year. However, he said the flooded housing market has really hurt developers, builders and other businesses related to housing.

Marian Eisenberg, director of the county’s Department of Planning and Development, said new residential permits had dropped off precipitously in each of the past three years. There were 1,532 new residential permits in 2006, 812 in 2007, 152 in 2008 and seven in 2009 as of February. Henry and Walton counties reported similarly sharp drops.

Surprisingly, the number of overall businesses in Newton and the surrounding counties has remained relatively stable. This is due to that fact that small businesses make up the vast majority of businesses in America and they tend to open and close on a regular basis.

Both Eisenberg and Debby Dial, the Covington Building and Zoning director, said the number of business licenses, which reflects the total number of businesses, has not decreased by a noticeable amount.

"We’re seeing them trend pretty much the same," Dial said. "We haven’t decreased, we’re holding our own. We’re not necessarily satisfied, but we do see a pattern that when one business may come down, another may come up."

Towler explains that even though the number of businesses is not decreasing, the number of jobs being cut is still higher.

Julie Hoover-Ernst, Henry County Communications Director, said some of the applicants for new business licenses in her county were out of work and looking to pursue a new career, or they were people who needed supplemental income.

Boothby said Newton County was hurt by its lack of industry diversity. He said the recent economic development strategy the chamber unveiled is important because it promotes a path of increased economic diversity, including sources like tourism, retail and distribution as well as manufacturing and construction. If that happens then future economic downturns won’t hurt Newton County as badly.

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