Metro Atlanta hiring solid, unemployment down to 3.4% in September

Growth comes in the face of the Fed’s multiple interest-rate hikes meant to tame inflation
Signia Hilton recently hired 340 people to work in its new hotel, set to open early next year in downtown Atlanta. Rachael Pollard, director of human resources, recently spoke to new hires at orientation.

Credit: cus

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Signia Hilton recently hired 340 people to work in its new hotel, set to open early next year in downtown Atlanta. Rachael Pollard, director of human resources, recently spoke to new hires at orientation.

Credit: cus

Credit: cus

The metro Atlanta economy added 9,500 jobs in September, a stronger-than-usual expansion for the month, as the jobless rate dropped, the Georgia Department of Labor said Thursday.

While the growth wasn’t spread evenly across all sectors, the hiring overall was strong enough to soak up a flow of new entrants into the workforce, cutting the unemployment rate to 3.4% from 3.7% in August.

That growth comes in the face of a two-year campaign of interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve meant to tame inflation by slowing the economy. A year ago, those hikes had many economists confidently predicting a recession, but jobless rates have stayed still low enough so that many employers struggle to find the employees they need.

“The market is struggling a little bit for labor,” said Teri Agosta, general manager of Signia by Hilton, a high-gloss, 976-room hotel that has been hiring for the staff of more than 800 it needs to open in January. “I was concerned. It is always hard to fill restaurant positions because there are so many restaurants. And it’s even more of a challenge to fill housekeeping positions.”

Over the course of the pandemic, many people left the workforce to take care of family members or deal with their own health issues like “long COVID.” Meanwhile, many boomers left the workforce for good.

Yet the labor force — people either working or seeking a job — has been expanding again. Last month, metro Atlanta’s labor force grew twice as fast as an average September.

Meanwhile, the past two years have seen an unprecedented willingness of employed people to ditch jobs they didn’t love for something else.

And it was a mix of people job-hopping and those returning to work at the most recent job fair, Agosta said. “A lot of people wanted to upgrade their careers. They were coming from fast food or small restaurants or smaller hotels.”

About 340 people were hired in one fell swoop, and it’s still not enough, Agosta said.

Hospitality is a sector that is still rebounding after being virtually gutted during the pandemic. In contrast, restaurants and hotels for many months were half-empty, but logistics was booming as people staying home ordered goods and fixed up their houses.

Now, with consumers going back to old spending habits, the rate hikes make borrowing more expensive for companies and consumers alike.

“We need to be cognizant of the financial pressures creating some instability within our existing business community, said Bruce Thompson, the state labor commissioner.

The result has been an uneven expansion.

During the past 12 months, the hospitality sector in metro Atlanta has added 18,700 jobs, but the surge in logistics like warehouse and delivery jobs has ebbed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

In September, Saddle Creek Logistics Services in Lithia Springs, which works with retailers, manufacturers and ecommerce companies, filed notice with state officials that it was laying off 225 people.

Earlier in the summer, Yellow trucking collapsed completely, cutting about 850 jobs in the area.

Yet Atlanta remains a hub for commerce and its growing economy means demand for well-positioned companies.

ContainerPort Group has a new, five-acre facility in Fairburn, close to a host of giant retail distribution centers and within a half-mile of a rail ramp to load and unload freight from CSX trains, said Kevin Hayes, regional vice president.

“It’s been a challenge to find qualified drivers,” he said.

About 70 independent truck drivers now work at the site, with plans to add about 55 more by next year, he said. “They are moving all different types of freight — appliances, auto parts, office goods.”

The shift in spending has meant that pay for drivers is much less than it was a year ago, but they still haul in about $2,500 a week — far above the area’s median pay, Hayes said.

The U.S. economy grew at a robust — and better than expected — 4.9% clip in the past three months, more than twice as fast as the previous quarter, the government announced Thursday. the key driver was consumer spending, including travel and dining.

And in Georgia, which typically tracks the nation, companies are hiring, Fed or no Fed.

One sign of that is Allison-Smith Company, an 80-year-old, Smyrna-based electrical contracting company that does work for a number of large companies, is looking to add 105 people by year’s end, according to Todd Grossweiler, executive vice president.

“In Atlanta, we’ve experienced a competitive job market,” he said. “We often find ourselves in competition for top talent.”

Skilled trades workers are in short supply, and some of that hiring crunch is growing demand for services, some is demographics, Grossweiler said. “Older workers are retiring, and there’s insufficient new talent entering the field.”

Metro Atlanta job change, September

Best, pre-pandemic: 15,900 (1994)

Worst, pre-pandemic: -15,200 (2008)

Average, pre-pandemic: 500

Recent: 9,500 (2023)

Metro Atlanta job change, Jan.-Sept.

Best, pre-pandemic: 52,400 (1999)

Worst, pre-pandemic: -128,300 (2009)

Average, pre-pandemic: 11,100

Recent: 24,500 (2023)

Metro Atlanta job change, past six months

April: 8,300

May: 9,700

June: 9,600

July: -11,600

August: 11,300

September: 9,500

Metro Atlanta, September unemployment rate

Best, pre-pandemic: 2.9% (1999)

Worst, pre-pandemic: 10.9% (2009)

Average, pre-pandemic: 5.4%

Recent: 3.4%

*Not adjusted to account for seasonal patterns

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis

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