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Region's job growth cools in April; Hiring at factories offset by weakness in service sector as trend remains positive

Job growth in the Buffalo Niagara region cooled a bit during April as a rebound in hiring at the area's factories was partly offset by weakness in the service sector, the state Labor Department reported today.

The region added 2,400 jobs from April 2011 to April 2012, a 0.4 percent annual growth rate that was less than half the 1 percent pace in March.

Still, the trend in employment locally remained positive, with the region adding jobs for the 19th time in the last 20 months.

At the same time, though, the pace of job growth locally remains well below the pace of hiring across the state and the nation. The local job growth was less than a third of the 1.3 percent gain statewide and the 1.4 percent increase nationally during April.

"It's still a recovery," said John Slenker, the Labor Department's regional economist in Buffalo.

Slenker said the region's declining population makes it difficult for the area to keep up with job growth across the rest of the nation, where the population is expanding, which creates more demand for goods and services in those growing areas.

"We're not keeping pace, but we are growing, and our growth is outpacing our population change," he said. "If you're not growing at the same rate as the nation, it's very difficult to keep pace with the nation" in job growth.

During April, much of the job growth locally came from a continued surge in construction employment, which grew sharply during 2011 and has remained robust into this year. Construction employment jumped by more than 12 percent last month and was the highest for any April since the 1980s.

"There is a lot of activity, and we were able to take advantage of the weather," Slenker said.

Local manufacturers are another bright spot, boosting their employment by 4.7 percent, or 2,400 jobs, over the past year in a sign that the long decline at the region's factories, which spans more than four decades, may be bottoming out.

Those gains, however, were partially offset by weakness in professional and business services, which shed 2.3 percent of its jobs, and softness in the leisure and hospitality field, one of 2011's strongest performers. Those leisure firms lost 2.7 percent of their jobs over the past year.

"We're starting to see slowdowns in some of the areas that were very, very strong," Slenker said. "They're stabilizing a little bit."

The April job growth in the Buffalo Niagara region was among the weakest across the state's 14 major metropolitan areas, topping only the declines in Elmira and Ithaca and the 0.3 percent job gain in the Poughkeepsie area.

The pace of job growth also was generally weak in rural portions of Western New York, with only Cattaraugus County managing to add jobs over the past year at a 0.9 percent annual rate.

Every other rural county in the area was either stable or lost jobs, the worst decline being Genesee County's 1.4 percent plunge. Allegany County lost jobs at a 1.1 percent pace, while the decline was 0.2 percent in Chautauqua County. The number of jobs held steady in Wyoming County.