Situated at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the very northwest portion of Georgia, metropolitan Dalton is proud to call itself the Carpet Capital of the World. By one estimate, 65 percent of all the carpet made in the US is manufactured within 40 miles of Dalton, the second-largest city in the state.
But when the housing bubble burst and the residential construction industry collapsed, Dalton's biggest industry went into a tailspin. Carpet companies initiated mass layoffs; some closed for good. The unemployment rate doubled. Some of the metro's immigrants (a quarter of the population is Hispanic) began to return home. A tough immigration law passed a year ago has put further pressure on illegal immigrants to leave.
Employment has plunged. Between April 2011 and April 2012, the metro lost 4,300 jobs (6.4 percent of its workforce). The labor force has shrunk to a 19-year low. Even with that shrinkage, the unemployment rate remains at an elevated 11.4 percent.
Meanwhile, the metro's manufacturing woes have spread to other industries. This spring, the majority of jobs lost were seemed to be in the service and government sectors.
There is some evidence that the worst is over. The housing market is stabilizing, which means that outlook for the carpet industry is brightening. That could mean new jobs ahead for the region’s 142,000 residents, who could use a boost after several years of decline.