Sarah Hammond, 13WMAZ

HOUSTON COUNTY, Ga. — Last week, 847,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits for the first time. That’s down almost 70,000 from the week before.

COVID-19 has affected thousands of Central Georgians, not just physically and emotionally, but also financially.

Throughout the pandemic, the service industry has been hit hard.

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Gigi Tebbe, who owns Sushi Thai in Warner Robins, says they got lucky and were able to avoid laying anyone off.

“With everyone’s help, we were able to make it work.”

In the beginning, she says they were expecting the worst.

“The truth is, I had to call a meeting and I told them that I really cannot promise anything,” she says. “People were crying and were scared. Everybody was scared.”

Warner Robins lost 3,000 jobs from December 2019 to 2020 and ended the year with almost 75,000 jobs.

The unemployment rate reached 4.9 percent in December, while a year ago, that number was 2.8 percent.

Looking a little farther north, Macon lost 1,600 jobs from December 2019 through last month.

“2020 has definitely been a challenge,” says Angie Gheesling, Houston County’s Development Authority Director.

However, she says without Robins Air Force Base and industries like Frito Lay and Sandler in the county, those numbers could have been much worse.

“For our manufacturers, we never stopped hiring — hiring in a big way.”

She says right now, businesses are investing $400 million in Houston County with 1,900 jobs to go along with it.

“We had a lot of pending announcements on the horizon that honestly have carried us through and will continue to carry us through for the next three years.”

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, the state has gotten back 82 percent of the jobs lost at the beginning of the pandemic.

If you’re unemployed and looking for a job, Gheesling says you can visit the Middle Georgia Economic Alliance website.

Tebbe says she’s also hiring down at Sushi Thai.