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Job market is off to strong start

The job market in the Buffalo Niagara region got off to a strong start in 2015.

The region added jobs at a 1.2 percent annual pace during January – the strongest pace in almost three years – fueled by a burst in hiring by local service firms, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

The January job growth was almost double the 0.7 percent average job-growth rate for the region throughout all of last year, and was a sign that the local employment market is beginning to heat up after cooling last fall.

“This is good news,” said John Slenker, the state Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen this kind of strength. January and February are usually the two slowest months, and we’re still seeing a lot of activity, even with the cold weather.”

The region added 6,200 jobs from January 2014 to January 2015, with all of the hiring coming from the private sector, offsetting continued softness in government jobs, especially at state agencies.

The uptick in hiring during January snapped a four-month period of tepid job growth that began in September and stretched through the rest of last year.

Job growth last month was the highest since March 2012, when employers added jobs at a 1.3 percent annual pace, according to revised data from the Labor Department.

The Labor Department also said job growth during December was significantly weaker than it initially reported, averaging 0.5 percent during the 12-month period, compared with the 0.8 percent it initially reported during January. The revision was based on more detailed information from local employers.

The revised data showed that job growth last year averaged 0.6 percent, making 2014 the strongest year for local job gains since 2011, although the increases throughout that four-year span have been in a narrow range, with annual improvements of between 0.6 percent and 1 percent.

The hiring increase in January was fairly widespread throughout the private sector, although manufacturing employment continued to decline, dropping by 1.9 percent over the last year. Financial services firms added jobs at a 2.8 percent annual pace, while professional and business services grew by 2 percent. Agencies providing temporary help had 3.1 percent more positions during this January than they did in January 2014, while education services jobs grew by 2.7 percent. The number of leisure and hospitality jobs grew by 2.2 percent over the last year, while construction jobs were up by 4.2 percent as work continued on a handful of big projects, from the HarborCenter and RiverBend to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

“The private sector is doing very well,” Slenker said.

Those gains offset continued weakness at local factories, which shed 1,000 jobs over the last year. Government employment, which accounts for 16 percent of all local jobs, was flat.

Despite the stronger job growth in December, job growth is much more robust elsewhere. Across New York State, job growth averaged 2 percent, compared with a year before, 40 percent more than the local increase. Nationwide, job growth averaged 2.4 percent, or double the local gain over the last year.

Among the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas, Buffalo Niagara’s job growth was tied with Glens Falls and Nassau-Suffolk counties for the seventh-highest statewide.