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Region's May job growth stays modest; Construction, factory hiring offsets weakness in service industry as 2,300 join payroll

Job growth in the Buffalo Niagara region remained modest during May as a strong hiring wave at construction sites and factories offset weakness in the local service industry, the state Labor Department reported Thursday.

The region added 2,300 jobs from May 2011 to May 2012, a 0.4 percent annual growth rate that was only a little better than a quarter of the 1.5 percent statewide increase. Job growth locally also lagged far behind the 1.4 percent annualized growth rate nationally.

The report also showed that the slowdown in the pace of local job growth extended into May. The 0.4 percent increase last month was the slowest increase since January and the third straight month that the growth rate has declined since hitting an eight-month high of 1 percent during March. Still, the trend in employment locally remained positive, with the region adding jobs for the 20th time in the last 21 months.

The report also said job growth locally during April was even stronger than initially reported. The Labor Department said the region added jobs at a 0.6 percent annual pace during April, rather than the 0.4 percent increase it initially reported -- a gain of about 3,200 jobs in all.

The strongest part of the local job market was in construction, where the number of jobs jumped by 14 percent and stood at the highest level for any May since at least 1990. The 23,100 construction jobs were the most for any month since the 2008 construction season and were at a level that has been topped during only 14 months since January 1990.

Local factories also continued to rebound after a decline that has spanned several decades. The number of factory jobs rose by 5 percent to a four-year high of 53,600, although that's still 30,000 less than the region had in May 2000.

Other pockets of strength were the 3.6 percent jump in hiring at local hotels and restaurants, along with a 1.3 percent gain in employment in education and health services.

Those gains were offset by a broad weakness among local service firms, especially in professional and business services, which shrunk by 5 percent, as well as the nearly 15 percent decline in administrative, support and waste management jobs.

The May 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 0.1 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 and Wyoming County managing to add jobs over the past year, although neither matched the statewide growth rate. Cattaraugus County added jobs at a 0.9 percent annual rate, while Wyoming County grew at a 0.8 percent pace.

Every other rural county in the area was either stable or lost jobs, the worst decline being Allegany County's 2.2 percent plunge. Genesee County lost jobs at a 0.9 percent pace, while the number of jobs held steady in Chautauqua County.