Share this article

print logo

Job growth in Buffalo Niagara region picks up pace but stays sluggish

The Buffalo Niagara job market strengthened last month but remains sluggish.

The region added jobs at its fastest pace in seven months during February, buoyed by hiring in construction and at local stores, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

But the faster growth rate, which ran at an annual pace of 0.9 percent, was less than half of the job gains nationally and far slower than the increase in hiring statewide.

The February job data, which showed that the region added 4,900 jobs over the last year, also continued the more subdued job growth that was highlighted in a steep downward revision of the region’s employment figures earlier this month by the Labor Department.

According to that revised data, the pace of hiring in Buffalo Niagara slowed steadily throughout the fall, bottoming out with a job loss in December and then slowly increasing in January.

“Instead of stagnation, which is what we had for 10 or 20 years, we’re on this slow, steady rise,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “When you get that type of a reset on your economy, to me, the most exciting thing is the consistency of the growth.”

Roughly 1 in 8 new jobs added in February came from the construction sector, which has been bolstered by major building projects such as the SolarCity solar panel factory and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Construction jobs were at their highest level for any February in the last 14 years.

The local financial services market also was strong, adding jobs at a 3.3 percent annual pace, while hiring rose by 2.7 percent at local health care and social-assistance firms. Retail jobs grew at a 2.6 percent annual rate. Those gains offset renewed weakness in local manufacturing, which lost 500 jobs and has been locked in a slow, steady decline since July. The sector that includes temporary help also was weak, falling at an 8.3 percent annual pace in February.

Hiring by the private sector, which excludes government jobs, was moderate, growing by 4,100 positions, or 0.9 percent, in the last year to hit another modern record in February. Private-sector employment locally is at its highest point in at least the last 25 years.

The region’s slow but steady growth in its job market now has continued almost unabated for 41 straight months, with the exception of a December job loss whose accuracy has been questioned by Slenker.

While the February job growth is above average by local standards, it is sluggish on both a nationwide and statewide scale. Job growth across the United States averaged 2.2 percent in February, while hiring increased at a 1.6 percent pace statewide.

Job growth was strongest downstate, while most upstate metropolitan areas lagged far behind the statewide and national growth rates, said E.J. McMahon, president of the Empire Center for Public Policy, an Albany think tank.

Only Ithaca and Watertown grew faster than the national and statewide averages. He described the pace of job growth upstate as “generally weak.”

Among the state’s 14 major metro areas, Buffalo Niagara’s job growth ranked 10th. Only Albany, Binghamton, Elmira, Rochester and Syracuse had slower job growth in February.