ATLANTA – Weak schools are a stumbling block for state industry recruiters, Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey told lawmakers Wednesday.
But the same joint meeting of the House and Senate appropriations committees also heard of positive developments on the jobs front.
Cummiskey reported that the Department of Economic Development set records last year for jobs brought into the state, even without counting those drawn by the two biggest projects Baxter International’s 1,500 jobs for a Covington plant and 1,400 jobs for a Caterpillar plant near Athens. Hotel occupancy is rising; motion-picture productions are increasing, and exports are growing, he said.
But in answer to a committee member’s question, he acknowledged that education is a liability.
“Our school system is not always seen as one of the best as we travel to other places,” he said.
He added that the state’s universities and technical colleges were an asset, especially the technical colleges’ program Quick Start that provides specific job training.
“Quick Start overcomes a lot of the problems we have there,” he said.
Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told the committees the state’s employment picture is improving even though the unemployment rate rose slightly last month.
“It’s not the fact that we aren’t getting jobs. It’s that our workforce is growing,” he said.
The state’s rate of job creation is higher than the national rate, and he predicted soon there would be more Georgians working than before the last recession, even though the unemployment rate will still be relatively high. The number of people losing their jobs last month, 400, was the lowest for that period in five years.
“We’re very close to being back to full recovery,” he said.