During the Cobb Chamber of Commerce’s August First Monday Breakfast, about 360 people learned more about Georgia’s job market from Mercer University professor, economist and Cobb native Roger Tutterow, who moderated a panel discussion with Georgia’s Secretary of State Brian Kemp, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler and Tom Croteau, the deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic Development.
“In July, we had a fourth birthday for this economic recovery,” Tutterow said at the start of the discussion. “This recovery is now 49 months old. … Still, what I hear when I see business leaders around the state: ‘When do things get normal?’” Cobb’s unemployment rate was 8 percent in June, the highest in more than six months, but down from 8.6 percent in June 2012, according to the Georgia Department of Labor. Georgia’s unemployment rate for June was 8.6 percent, down from 9.1 percent last June.
Two million jobs remain lost
Tutterow said that 8.7 million jobs were lost nationally between January 2008 and February 2010 and that 2 million of those jobs remain gone.
In Georgia, there was a similar pattern of 430,000 jobs lost in the worst months of the recession and 195,000 have been recouped to date, but the metro Atlanta area is still down about 55,000 jobs from 2007.
“You just feel like things are getting better when you’re talking to local chambers and it doesn’t really matter where you are in the state,” Kemp said.
“The bad thing is, there’s still so much uncertainty in Washington, D.C., with (Obamacare) and how that’s going to be implemented, how much that’s going to cost and how that’s going to affect my business that people are just still scared in a lot of ways to make investments and hire people,” he said. “I think that may be part of what’s holding us back on employment.”
Butler and Croteau agreed, with the labor commissioner saying that some people are “sitting on their money” because they are unsure what expenses will be associated with the healthcare law.
The employee mandate portion of the Affordable Care Act, which penalizes employers with more than 50 employees if they fail to provide a minimum standard of affordable health insurance, was scheduled for implementation in January 2014, but the Obama Administration announced in early July the measure will be delayed until January 2015.
“To me, that’s one of the biggest and largest obstacles,” Butler said. “The good news for the state, though, is that hopefully the revenues will continue to increase.”
On the development front, Croteau said his department just wrapped up fiscal 2013 and among the 388 companies they work with, 31,600 jobs were created last year, compared to 22,000 the year before.
He also said that Georgia hit a $6 billion mark for investments in development, compared to $4 billion a year ago. “What was so surprising is that we matched and surpassed the year before,” he said. “So, I think we do have a lot of good news to talk about.”
‘Sitting on hold’
John Loud, who owns Kennesaw-based LOUD Security Systems, said he hesitates to invest or hire employees because of the health care law. “I have 47 employees right now and I don’t know how to slow it down,” he said Monday afternoon. “I’ve been hiring like crazy, but I agree with a lot of people that have been sitting on hold because we don’t know how impactful the health care law will be.”
Loud said the largest check he signs every month is for medical premiums. They pay 80 percent of medical premiums and while he wouldn’t give the exact amount, Loud said it was a five-figure check.
His business, which he started in 1995, was reduced to about 22 employees in September 2011, but has bounced back with about 10 employees each year since then.
Loud said he’s even considered selling his company once he got to a staff of 50 or larger because of the financial impact of the new health care plan.
‘Let’s be conservative’
Gary Bottoms, president of The Bottoms Group insurance company in Marietta, also has embraced the cautious approach to investment and hiring.
“There’s just a feeling of, ‘Let’s be conservative,’” he said. “And they question whether or not to hire somebody.” But Bottoms also said his company has been fortunate despite the economy because The Bottoms Group has seen growth in its clientele the last two or three years because of the looming health care law.
“Our business has grown rather substantially because of the confusion surrounding it,” he said. “We haven’t been hurt at all.”
He couldn’t say exactly how many more clients they have signed on since 2010.
The Bottoms Group, which was started in 1947 by Gary Bottoms’ father, employs eight people, including his son, David Bottoms, and daughter, Laura Higginbotham.
The next meeting will be Sept. 7 and John Stephenson, the president and CEO of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, will be the guest speaker.