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Buffalo Niagara region’s job growth stayed moderate into August

The Buffalo Niagara region’s moderate job growth continued into August.

Yet despite some strengthening, the local job count expanded only about half as fast as the rest of the country.

The region’s job market grew at an annual pace of 0.9 percent during August, with local employers adding 5,000 jobs over the past 12 months to bring the area within a whisker of where it could claim to have recovered all of the jobs it lost during the Great Recession.

Hiring was even stronger among the region’s private-sector businesses, which added jobs at a more robust 1.4 percent annual pace. But those gains were offset by job cuts by cash-strapped government agencies, according to data released Thursday by the state Labor Department.

And last month’s gains left the region just 400 jobs below its pre-recession peak in August 2008, putting the local job market on the cusp of completing its recovery from the job losses during the recession – something the area never came close to doing after the 2001 recession.

“Overall, these are pretty good numbers,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “This is the kind of pattern I like to see.”

Scott R. Stenclik, the president of Superior Talent Resources in Amherst, said he also is seeing a slow improvement in the region’s job market.

“Job growth is continuing,” he said. “Clearly, it seems private-sector hiring is growing faster than public-sector hiring.”

Stenclik said demand is strong for workers with skills in engineering and financial services. He said the companies his business works with are slowly becoming more confident about adding workers to their payroll.

“I think, generally, the mood and the level of contentedness is positive,” he said. But he also doesn’t expect a sudden surge in hiring. “I think the timeline for job growth will be a protracted one,” he said.

That trend is reflected in the August job data, which showed the region adding new positions at a pace that is squarely in the middle of the range that has been typical of nonrecessionary periods over the last two decades, when employment growth generally has ranged from being flat to expanding by as much as 1.6 percent on an annualized basis.

On the downside, that growth is not nearly as robust as it is elsewhere. The pace of job growth here is a little better than half the 1.7 percent expansion nationally, and about a third slower than the state’s overall job growth of 1.4 percent.

Much of the job growth locally is centered in the service sector, where education and health services firms added jobs at a 4.5 percent annual pace over the past year. Hiring at temporary help agencies, which typically jumps in the early stages of a recovery, also was strong, rising at a 3.4 percent annual rate. The leisure and hospitality sector also continued to expand quickly, with local hotels and restaurants adding jobs at a 3.6 percent annual pace.

Those gains, however, were partially offset by continued softness in manufacturing, where employers cut jobs at a 0.8 percent annual pace, while government employment dropped by 1.6 percent and construction also weakened, with 2.3 percent fewer jobs than a year ago.

Slenker said the weakness in construction employment, at a time when the region has more highly visible building projects than it has had in years, may reflect a general shortage of skilled tradesmen, as well as the impact of federal government budget cutbacks on road construction.

“There is no denying that the activity level you’re seeing downtown is enormous,” he said. “Everything is pointing to a lack of supply of labor.”

Among the state’s 14 major metro areas, job growth in the Buffalo Niagara region ranked ninth, topping only Binghamton, Elmira, Poughkeepsie, Rochester and Utica. The region’s job growth was much better than the 0.5 percent increase across all of upstate New York, but less than half as strong as the hiring expansion in the New York City area, which added jobs at a 2.1 percent pace.

Job growth was generally weak in the rural counties in Western New York, where Genesee County’s 0.9 percent increase was the strongest. Chautauqua County added jobs at a 0.2 percent annual pace, while job losses ran at a 0.7 percent pace in Wyoming County, 1.2 percent in Cattaraugus County and 1.7 percent in Allegany County.

Nationally, applications for unemployment benefits climbed by 15,000 to 309,000 in the week ended Sept. 14 from a revised 294,000 in the prior period, a Labor Department report showed.