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Region adds 1,400 jobs over year, state says Unemployment rate hits 5.9 percent

The Buffalo-Niagara region's unemployment rate dropped to 5.9 percent last month, from 6.1 percent the year before, as service jobs continued to replace the shrinking number of factory jobs. The region has added 1,400 jobs during the past year.

However, the region's 0.3 percent job growth rate is one-third the statewide rate of 1 percent job growth, according to statistics released Wednesday by the state Labor Department.

The region's job growth was the second slowest among the state's 14 major metropolitan areas, topping only Rochester, which lost jobs at a 1.2 percent pace. Syracuse and New York City tied for the fastest growth at 1.6 percent.

Manufacturing jobs continue to disappear in Erie and Niagara counties. There are fewer factory jobs locally than at any other time in past 16 years, when the state has been tracking employment with its current system. Last month, the region had 62,100 factory jobs, 400 jobs fewer than the previous month and 31,200 fewer than in 1990.

"This trend has been going on for a long time," said John Slenker, the labor department's regional economist in Buffalo.

"Locally, we have a higher concentration (of manufacturing jobs) than the rest of the nation," said Slenker. "When there's a manufacturing downturn, we feel it."

The region had 539,700 jobs last month, up from 538,300 in February, 2004. Since 1990, the region's job count has grown by 2,000.

The region's unemployment rate, while lower that it was a year ago, rose slightly from January to February, inching up to 5.9 percent from 5.6 percent in January.

The region's job gains came from an 1,900-job increase in private sector, including gains in banking and insurance.

Other business services, such as accounting, computer processing and temporary agency employment, rose by 2,300 in the past year.

Declines came from a loss of 500 jobs in city and county government in the past year.

The mild winter, which made for limited skiing, also accounted for some 300 job losses in the leisure and hospitality category from February 2005 to February 2006, Slenker said.

"This is a case where weather plays a factor," Slenker said. "This is one of the few industries that prays Buffalo gets six feet of snow."

Buffalo's unemployment rate was 6.5 percent in February, up from 6.3 percent in January but down from 7 percent in February 2005.

The jobless rate in Niagara Falls rose to 7.9 percent in February from 7.7 percent in January, but was down from 8.5 percent in February 2005.

The unemployment percentage rates for February, January and February of 2005 were:

* Allegany -- 6.2 percent, 6.3 percent and 7.1.

* Cattaraugus -- 6.2, 6 and 6.7.

* Chautauqua -- 5.5, 5.2 and 5.8.

* Genesee -- 6.4, 6.1 and 6.6.

* Orleans -- 7.1, 7 and 7.2.

* Wyoming -- 7, 6.5 and 7.4.

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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