published Friday, April 13th, 2012

Georgia closing career centers

Georgia's Department of Labor is shuttering seven of its 53 career centers, including offices in Fort Oglethorpe and Blairsville, in a move to cut costs.

No employees are losing their jobs as a result of the closings, which are effective July 1, the agency said Thursday. The 61 employees affected by the closures will be relocated to other offices with staff shortages.

Labor Commissioner Mark Butler said the agency began looking at possible closings early last year and considered multiple criteria in making their decision.

The Labor Department will continue to operate 46 career centers statewide, including offices in North Georgia in Dalton and Blue Ridge. The agency also is increasing its online presence, where full registration for employment services will be available in the coming weeks

"As we go forward, we're looking at different ways to have a physical presence in more communities," Butler said, "The main thing is that we're trying to increase the availability of services, including better technology and flexibility. We're trying to maximize taxpayer dollars and delivery of service."

Butler said the budget cuts approved by the state Legislature this year played a role in the decision to close offices. Gov. Nathan Deal asked state agencies to make 2 percent cuts in their budgets, and Butler said the cuts to the Labor Department exceeded that mandate.

Butler also said the Labor Department is moving rapidly to increase its online presence. He said more office locations could be closed.

"Not saying there won't be more office closings in the future ... we may move some office locations down the road. Nothing's written in stone as of yet."

The affected offices are in Blairsville, Camilla, Elberton, Kings Bay, Eastman, Monroe and Fort Oglethorpe.

Most of the alternative offices are an average of 35 miles from the nearest closing one. Butler acknowledged the potential impact on people served in those areas, saying that "some of them are going to be further away than others." But he added that most of the closings are in areas that were serving fewer people.

Georgia's unemployment rate remains at 9.1 percent, and has declined for seven straight months. But it still is above the national average of 8.3 percent.

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