While the economy has been slowly improving since the Great Recession, its hard for some Middle Georgia job-seekers to see it.
Niqueel Jackson, of Macon, has been walking through the doors of the Georgia Department of Labor office on Eisenhower Parkway daily for the past two months.
I come over here every day, Jackson said while sitting in his vehicle outside the office last week.
Jackson was one of about 300 employees laid off at the end of May by Robins Air Force Base contractor DynCorp International Inc. The layoff occurred after the U.S. Air Force decided not to extend the companys contract. The company provided maintenance support on Air Force aircraft.
Jackson worked for DynCorp for about four months before he got his pink slip.
Around here in Macon, the job market is not good, he said. Ive been looking mostly for mechanic and industrial painter jobs. Its something Im certified in.
Hes been doing that kind of work more than 10 years.
Jackson has applied at several major companies and has searched beyond the Macon area for a job. He has a lead on a possible aircraft painter job in Savannah, but hes not crazy about moving.
I aint got no choice now, he said. It would be an upset to move, but Ive got to go what Ive got to do. I have two kids, 1 and 5. ... Im debating whether I should do a career change or something. I dont know. I am trying to stick with what I know, but the market just aint there.
Jackson is facing some competition. According to the Georgia Department of Labor, during the month of July -- the last figures available -- nearly 11,000 people were unemployed in the Macon metropolitan statistical area, which comprises Bibb, Crawford, Jones, Monroe and Twiggs counties. The number of unemployed for the same period was 5,758 in the Warner Robins MSA, which comprises Houston County.
The unemployment rate for Macons MSA was 9.5 percent in July, down from 10.1 percent a year ago, according to the Labor Department. There were 98,700 jobs in July in metro Macon, down by 400 from 99,100 in June but up from 97,200 jobs in July 2012. Most of the job losses were in local government.
The unemployment rate for Warner Robins MSA was 8.1 percent in July, down slightly from 8.2 percent in July a year ago. There were 59,100 jobs in July in metro Warner Robins, down by 300 from 59,400 in June. Most of these job losses were in state and local government.
Keldrick Frye, of Macon, was also at the Labor Department office last week. Frye was laid off at the end of June by Fowlers Furniture in Macon, where he assembled furniture and made some deliveries for about nine months before he was let go.
Since then, Frye has been working at finding a job and has filled out more than 50 applications.
You have to network, so thats one thing I try to do, he said. I look on the Internet and talk to people. ... You have to keep a positive attitude and keep pressing on. You cant give up.
The Labor Department career center offers a number of resources to help job-seekers, manager Bob Thompson said.
People have access to several computers from which they can connect to a number of sites to look for jobs. They can apply for unemployment insurance, get help with résumé writing, get counseling or skills assessment and learn how to get training and possible financial assistance for training, he said. The center has free access to all services and equipment, including fax and phones.
Our goal is to get them back to work as soon as possible, Thompson said.
Also, employers can use the conference rooms for job interviews or to hold workshops, he said.
While some people may think the jobs listed by the Department of Labor are all low-level, blue-collar jobs, thats not the case. Some of the positions listed last week included assistant district attorney, engineers and auditor positions in Warner Robins, registered nurse, restaurant manager and sales manager positions in Macon.
More jobs this year than 2012
There is a glimmer things are on an upward track, which might help job-seekers like Jackson and Frye.
What we are seeing now is several months of steady job growth, said Sam Hall, director of communications with the state Labor office. The numbers from month to month are not staggering numbers, but they are consistently moving in the right direction.
Statewide in July this year, there were 113,000 more jobs this year compared with July 2012, when there were 3,929,700, Hall said. Those jobs covered a number of sectors, including professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, education and health services and even construction and manufacturing.
For that same period, while there was a net gain of jobs, the government did shed 4,000 jobs during that period, Hall said. If the private sector had not been creating jobs, as they have done for the last six consecutive months, that picture would not have been nearly as bright. Its the private sector that drives the whole economic train.
Improvement in construction jobs is a good sign, he said. So much of the economic downfall during the Great Recession, which began in 2007 and ran through 2009, dealt with construction and the housing industry.
So, as the construction industry is coming back, thats a really good signal for Georgias economy, Hall said.
Scott Thompson, CEO and general counsel for Piedmont Construction Group would agree.
There has been a rebound in the construction sector since 2008 and over the course of the last six months, the job market has improved, Thompson said. But there are still more applicants than positions.
During the recession, when the real estate market was hitting bottom, a lot of people who worked in the construction industry moved into other fields, he said. Its hard to persuade those folks to come back.
They would like to get back into construction, but it hasnt improved enough, Thompson said. Some are still taking the wait and see attitude.
Nationally, housing construction grew at an annual rate of 12.9 percent during April to June, and it was the fourth straight quarter of double-digit growth.
The national upward trend in job growth is giving some economists hope for a solid number in August. Employers have added an average of 192,000 jobs a month so far this year.
Also, the number of Americans looking for unemployment benefits remains near the lowest level in more than five years.
The national trend should eventually make its way to Middle Georgia.
The story of Middle Georgia is that Bibb County always lags behind Houston County in employment and Bibb lags behind the state, and the state lags behind the nation, said Greg George, associate professor of economics and director of the Center for Economic Analysis at Middle Georgia State College.
At this point, the slow, ongoing recovery nationally is not allowing for anything to happen here, so we are just creeping along too, George said. But technically, a slow crawling recovery is what were in. So over time we expect those numbers to fall.
Now unfortunately, this week we got the durable goods numbers that were a bad miss, and that can be a precursor for a slowing economy. So, we need to keep an eye on that.
One of Macons largest employers is always hiring.
Geico Corp. has nearly 4,900 employees in its offices here, up from 3,500 five years ago.
We will hire somewhere upwards of 1,600 people this year (in Macon) and well hire even more next year, said Scott Markel, regional vice president. Some of that is replacement for turnover, but more than half of that are additional jobs. ... The majority of our hiring is for entry-level positions.
Most of the jobs involve pretty comprehensive paid training because we are very career-oriented, he said. For that reason, Geico looks for people who are career seekers, not job jumpers.
The companys CEO started in the mail room and Markel started as a sales associate 27 years ago, he said. Applicants should go to www.careers.geico.com for more information.
Pat Topping, senior vice president of the Macon Economic Development Commission, said hes seeing improvement in the number of industries looking for new sites and in existing companies putting money into expansions.
So far this year, hes opened 41 new projects, which includes everything from just vague inquires about the local community to actual site visits by companies. Some of those projects represent advanced manufacturing, food processors, automotive industry, aerospace/aircraft and distribution centers, Topping said. The number of jobs the companies would bring ranges from 25 to more than 400.
We are definitely seeing an increase in our level of activity, he said. We are up over 25 percent (compared) to recent years. ... We do see an increase in activity among our (existing) companies. ... We have seen existing companies adding shifts or new lines that increase employment by 20 to 30 people.
Topping acknowledged the economy is still recovering and there are more people still out of work than we would like, but we are seeing some signs that are promising.
Finding employment in this new economy requires skills and training, and I can only encourage people to continue with their education and training so that you can make yourself a valuable asset to companies that we are successful recruiting and to our existing companies as they expand.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.