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New York manufacturers continued to see their businesses grow in November, but their appetite for new workers diminished, according to a survey by the Federal Reserve.

The survey's employment index, a measure of employers' hiring activity, shrank for the second consecutive month.

The index remained in positive territory -- indicating that more employers are hiring than firing -- but the gap is narrowing.

The gradual cooling of employment and other indicators signals that manufacturing's recovery, which was robust at the start of the year, may be coming to an end.

"The manufacturing sector is still growing, but things are starting to slow a bit," said Richard Deitz, author of the survey and regional economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York's Buffalo Branch.

"It's pretty far into the cycle . . . at some point it is reasonable to expect this to level off," he said.

The survey's employment index fell to 10.75 percent in November, from 17.65 in October and 20.29 in September. The index measures the percentage difference between employers who say they are hiring and those that are cutting jobs.

The survey of about 100 manufacturers across the state looks at growth in orders, prices, shipments and other measures of vitality, as well as employment. It serves as a barometer of manufacturing's direction, but doesn't predict net job figures, Deitz said.

"One or two large manufacturers may swamp the growth of small and medium-sized employers," he said. Indeed, Western New York has yet to see any growth in factory jobs. The period of national economic recovery since the 2001 recession has only managed to slow the losses in manufacturing, according to the state Labor Department.

There were 66,000 factory jobs in September, up 400 from August but still 3 percent lower than a year ago. Since September of 2000, before the recession, the region has lost 17,400 factory jobs.

Job creation in other sectors hasn't been robust enough to make up for industrial weakness. The region's overall count of non-farm jobs is down 13,000 from the pre-recession level of September 2000.

But suppliers to manufacturers say that battered job levels don't reflect factories' increasing health.

"In the past six months we've had a real upswing in business," said Thomas Cauley, sales manager of Robert E. Morris Co. in Lancaster, a dealer in metalworking equipment. Having emerged from the long slump of previous years, the company, formerly Osgood Machining, can hardly keep up with orders for factory machinery, he said.

Regional factories are also consuming more steel in recent months, said Scott McCain, president of Erie Concrete & Steel Supply in Erie, Pa. and a director of the Metal Service Center Institute. The growth is coming from makers of equipment for autos and transportation, oil refining and capital equipment, he said.

Some jobs aren't being created because of a lack of skilled workers such as machinists and welders to fill openings, McCain and Cauley said.