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Buffalo-Niagara Falls has the weakest job creation outlook for the fourth quarter among the state's metropolitan areas, according to a survey of employers by Manpower Inc.

The poll found that only 6 percent of area companies plan to beef up their labor force during October, November and December.

On the other hand, only 6 percent of respondents expect to cut staffs, leaving most companies -- 88 percent -- hanging on at their present job levels.

On the Niagara Frontier, "I think people are trying to jump-start the economy, but it's not catching yet," said Lenard Morris, area manager for the temporary staffing agency.

Although many skilled job categories are tight, with qualified applicants in high demand, the region's overall job picture lags behind other urban areas, he said.

The official unemployment rate was 7.1 percent in July for Erie and Niagara counties, inflated by the strike at General Motors. The Labor Department rate, translating to 42,200 out of work, is expected to improve for August following the recall of autoworkers.

Although it doesn't predict actual job numbers, the Manpower survey provides an advance picture of the region's climate for employment. The temp agency polls more than 30 area companies about their hiring plans.

The outlook for the fourth quarter is dimmer than the previous three months, when 23 percent of respondents had planned to add staff and 13 percent intended to cut. But the forecast is marginally brighter than a year ago. At the end of 1997, 6 percent of employers told Manpower they planned to add jobs and 10 percent spoke of cutting back.

"Some of it (job outlook) can be seasonally oriented," Morris said. Companies letting go temporary summer help can darken the job picture.

Retail and wholesale businesses will have hiring opportunities, as stores gear up for their busiest season, Morris said.

But manufacturing, which has been on a mild upswing, will be trimming staff levels at year-end, as rising inventories cause factories to slow down.

And the services industry is producing mixed signals, with some employers planning cuts and others expecting to add jobs, the survey said.

Nationally, 29 percent of employers expect to add staff, 7 percent see declines and 60 percent expect no change. The remainder were uncertain about their employment outlook.

Manpower saw the greatest job opportunities nationally in wholesale and retail trades, construction and manufacturing. Nationally, manpower surveys 16,000 employers in 474 cities.

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