Savannah-area employers added 5,000 jobs in 2012, and the growth shows no signs of slowing. The total number of jobs in Chatham, Bryan and Effingham counties hit a four-year high in December even as the unemployment rate rose because of a 1,400-person increase in the labor force, according to Georgia Department of Labor statistics. And with economists projecting gains in three of Savannah’s biggest industries – tourism, manufacturing and professional and business services – and a 20 percent rise in building permits expected to boost construction employment, 2013 looks “promising.” “Last year was an all right year, and it gave us some momentum to carry us through 2013,” said Armstrong Atlantic State University economist Michael Toma. Toma projects employment growth between 1.5 percent and 2 percent, up from 0.8 percent in 2012 and 0.3 percent in 2011. Tourism, manufacturing and construction are the likely gains leader. Tourism employment hit an all-time high in 2012, peaking at 21,300 jobs in August. Several new hotels under construction downtown have 2013 opening targets. Manufacturing, meanwhile, continued its slow but steady growth. The sector added 400 jobs in 2012 and has grown by 700 positions since the start of 2011. Local manufacturers such as Mitsubishi, Kerry Ingredients and Flavours, K Machine Industrial Services and Gulfstream plan to expand their workforces this year. Barring layoffs elsewhere, manufacturing employment could return to pre-slump levels – the sector is 500 jobs off. “After years of decline, the growth we’ve had over the past two years indicates that Georgia’s manufacturing base is alive and beginning to thrive again,” Gov. Nathan Deal said in a recent press release. “This is a great step closer to making Georgia the No. 1 place in the country to do business.” The construction sector could see explosive growth. The industry lost 45 percent of its jobs locally during the recession, and employment has hovered at current levels since September 2011. But homebuilders are already ramping up in anticipation of a busy spring buying season. And several large planned development projects, including two on River Street, will get underway later this year. Construction’s “forced march” of reinvention is over, Toma said, as evidenced by the rise in building permits. Robert Sumichrast, dean of the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, projects the housing market will find “momentum” in 2013. Local homebuilders also predict greater labor demand in 2013. Many added to their crews with last year’s pickup and are poised to do so again. “I don’t have a crystal ball and can’t say when, but sooner rather than later,” said Mark Konter, president of the Greater Savannah Homebuilders Association. “As starts ramp up, there will be demand.” A construction turnaround would help close the still-significant gap in the local job numbers. Employment is still off by more than 5,000 jobs from pre-recession levels. New homes and commercial development typically foreshadow job creation in other sectors, particularly in service industries.
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