Speaking at the Henry County Chamber of Commerce’s monthly luncheon in McDonough, he said the state has been reeling from the recession, especially concerning a large debt owed to the federal government.
But, Butler said, changes to the maximum amount of unemployment benefits given – leading to a drop in the average time people receive unemployment from 20 weeks to 11 – and recovering about $20 million in fraud allowed the state to pay off its debt in its entirety in May.
“This means that $222 million that was previously being paid to the federal government is going to stay in our state’s economy, starting in January of 2015,” he said.
Butler said the department’s main priorities are the state technical college system and soft-skills training.
“I firmly believe that our technical college system is the best around because we’re listening to what employers are looking for, we’re more flexible and focused on getting individuals retrained for the fields seeking employees,” he said. “Also, in less than two years, we’ve expanded our Georgia’s Best program – which teaches soft skills such as appropriate dress and cooperative work – from 20 high schools around the state to 209 high schools in the past two years, which our business, schools and communities love.”
Butler said Georgia is doing “really good in comparison with the rest of the nation.”
“Yes, we’ve had about 32,000 job losses during summer, but those are all temporary and have to do with our school systems and government,” he said. “We’ve had a net gain of about 83,000 jobs, which puts us sixth in the nation of net job growth this year.”
Chamber president David Gill said jobs are “always on our mind.”
“One of the most critical issues facing our state over the last five years is the state of employment. My hope is that more businesses in the county will take advantage of the number of services the department has that small business owners can use for numerous opportunities,” he said about resources like trend and industry snapshots, workforce recruiting help and filing assistance.
A number of new chamber members, including Jill Barrett, co-owner of a new Kona Ice food truck, attended to ask Butler questions and learn more about employment.
“Community is an essential part of our business because we are involved in a lot of fundraising events, so learning as much information as we can about employment in the county and making new connections through the chamber has been essential in starting out here,” she said.