Of the more than 5,000 unemployed workers who attended a Dalton job fair last November, one man’s plight stood out to Michael Thurmond, the state’s labor commissioner.
The man had worked in real estate, the financial industry and at a carpet company in human resources. He had been without a job for a year and a half.
“Tears in his eyes, he talked about the challenges he was facing supporting himself, his family, had never been unemployed in his life and was unable to find a job,” Thurmond said. “Before he walked away, he said, ‘Sir, you don’t know me and I don’t really know you, but promise me one thing, that when you get back to Atlanta you do something to help bring jobs back to Whitfield County.’”
Thurmond did just that Tuesday morning when he announced the Labor Department will open an office of its Disability Adjudication Services (DAS) in Dalton. He spoke during a press conference to a crowd of about 50 at the Dalton-Whitfield Chamber of Commerce
The office will employ up to 45, including supervisors, hearing officers, adjudicators and their associates, help-desk specialists, program associates and assistants. A career fair to hire office staff will be on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center. Information about these positions may be found at www.dol.state.ga.us. The positions are expected to be filled by Sept. 15.
Thurmond also said a number of professionals will be needed to conduct medical and physiological assessments and consultative examinations, which could bring even more money to the community. Those contracts could pay several hundred thousand dollars.
The projected annual payroll for the office is about $2 million, while Thurmond said the economic impact could reach $6 million. The office is at 500 E. Walnut Ave., adjacent to Regions Bank at the corner of Abutment Road, and will open between Nov. 1 and Nov. 15.
Local officials said the jobs announcement couldn’t have come at a better time. Whitfield County has shed thousands of jobs in the past two years because of the slumping floorcovering industry. Just in the past week, the Value Fresh supermarket on Cleveland Highway closed, resulting in 55 job losses.
Metro Dalton (Whitfield and Murray counties) had a June unemployment rate of 11.8 percent. While that’s down from 12.5 percent in June 2009, the metro area has the highest unemployment rate among the state’s 14 metro areas.
“These are difficult times, not only for our community, we have all been following the media, we have in a 15-county area some of the worst unemployment rates in the state, certainly in this region of the country,” said Brian Anderson, the chamber president. “We have a chance to do the kind of things that will put people back to work, give them a chance at employment, it’s certainly big news for us to share with the community.”
Dalton Mayor David Pennington hopes the office’s proximity to downtown will increase business at shops and restaurants. He said the state’s decision to open the DAS office in Dalton was “something not that just we need, we also deserve.”
“We’ve had quite a few state officials come up here and commensurate with us over a very difficult time we’re going through because of layoffs in the carpet industry,” Pennington said. “They go back to Atlanta after commensurating with us and we don’t hear from them again.”
Thurmond said the federal government provided funding for an additional 100 jobs for the labor department and the decision was made at a lower level “to place those jobs in the Atlanta office.”
“We decided the folks in Atlanta got enough jobs,” Thurmond said. “What we need to do is put jobs where people need jobs.”
He said the jobs are permanent and “will not go away.”
DAS is a specialized program of the department’s Division of Rehabilitation Services which coordinates with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to make disability determinations for Georgia citizens who apply for programs administered by the SSA. These programs include Disability Insurance (SSDI) for workers who pay FICA taxes and Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a disability needs program.
This will be the first office of its kind in north Georgia. Thurmond said there was a gap for DAS offices. The Labor Department has DAS offices in Athens, Savannah, Stone Mountain and Thomasville. He believes the new office will improve customer service because residents will no longer have to travel to Atlanta or Chattanooga to apply for the benefits.