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CITY TALK: Impressive job gains continue for Savannah economy

According to the latest estimates from the Georgia Department of Labor, the Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) had 180,000 nonfarm payroll jobs in March, an increase of 6,700 jobs from March 2016.

That’s a 3.9 percent annual jump in local payrolls, which is much faster than the rate of population increase.

If you’ve been following the local economic trends, you won’t be surprised by the sectors that gave the biggest boost to that robust growth.

Over the past year, we’ve added 2,100 jobs in the broad category of professional and business services, 2,000 jobs in leisure and hospitality, and 1,100 jobs in education and health services.

The Savannah metro area has also seen the number of public sector jobs increase by 1,600 (6.8 percent) over the past year. There was solid growth in federal, state and local government employment.

For the first several years of the ongoing economic recovery, government hiring lagged both private sector hiring and population growth. That was a trend nationally, not just locally, but it seemed inevitable that the need for additional employees in critical sectors like education and public safety would boost public payrolls.

Most other sectors added payroll jobs between March 2016 and March 2017, but the estimates suggest that several key sectors contracted slightly. According to the data, manufacturing lost 600 jobs, information lost 300 and the broad sector that includes transportation, warehousing and utilities lost 500.

Those employment declines might just be statistical anomalies, but the numbers are nevertheless worrisome and deserving of future scrutiny.

In March, the Savannah metro area saw 562 initial claims for unemployment insurance, a decline of 26 percent from the 755 claims in March 2016.

The Georgia Department of Labor hasn’t yet released the local unemployment rate for March, but the February rate was 4.7 percent, down from 5.2 percent a year earlier.

As I’ve noted routinely since the current economic expansion began almost exactly eight years ago, most rural and lightly populated parts of the state are not experiencing the job gains that we’ve seen in Savannah, Atlanta and a few other Georgia metro areas.

The February unemployment rate was more than 7 percent in a dozen counties west and northwest of Savannah, including Screven, Jenkins, Emanuel and Toombs.

I have been reading some interesting analyses lately about the prospects for economic recovery in rural areas that have experienced population losses in recent years, and I’m left with the sense that we’re likely to see continued growth in metro areas even as rural economies stagnate.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, GA 31401.

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