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Local job growth hits a 15-year high during May

The Buffalo Niagara region is in the midst of its strongest hiring boom in 15 years, fueled, in part, by the region’s construction boom.

And the hiring was especially strong during May. In fact, it was the strongest month for job growth since July 1999, and the second-strongest in the last quarter-century.

The Buffalo Niagara region added 13,000 jobs over the past year, according to new data released Thursday by the state Labor Department. That put job growth during May at a 2.3 percent annual pace – the strongest since a 2.9 percent annual gain in July 1999 and just the fourth time in the last 25 years that any month has had an annual growth rate of as much as 2 percent.

“This is an extremely robust recovery,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “It seems like it’s picking up steam now.”

Job growth locally now has averaged 1.6 percent during the first five months of this year, more than double the 0.7 percent increase in jobs the region experienced during all of 2014. If that pace continues through the rest of the year, 2015 would be the strongest year for job growth in the Buffalo Niagara region since 1999.

“This is strong growth, but it’s also sustainable,” he said. “This is not an overheating economy.”

Almost a quarter of the job growth came from the construction industry, which is thriving with seasonal roadwork and big construction projects underway at SolarCity, HarborCenter and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

“We’re getting into the phases that are much more labor intensive on some of the big construction projects,” Slenker said.

The local job growth, while strong by local standards, is fairly average on a nationwide scale. The U.S. added jobs at a 2.2 percent pace during May, only slightly slower than the job growth locally last month, but it was the first time that the local expansion topped the U.S. pace since February 2011.

The May jobs report also included several other milestones:

• The number of private-sector jobs hit an all-time high for May, rising by 2.8 percent over the last year. Total employment, which includes government jobs, also hit a record high for May.

• Construction jobs also hit an all-time high for May and were the highest for any month dating back to the fall of 1990.

• The region’s slow but steady growth in its job market now has continued for 33 straight months – the longest period of uninterrupted growth since 1990, according to Labor Department data. The private sector, which excludes government jobs, has grown for 61 straight months.

• Professional and business services also were strong, as was hiring in the leisure and hospitality industry and the financial services sector, each growing by more than 3 percent during the past year.

All of the hiring coming from the private sector, offsets continued softness in government jobs, especially at state agencies.

The job growth locally easily topped the gains statewide, where jobs grew by 1.6 percent over the past year and was slightly stronger than the 2.2 percent growth rate across the country.

Among the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas, Buffalo Niagara’s job growth was the second-strongest, trailing only the 2.4 percent increase in New York City.

One of the few negatives in the jobs report was a slight downward revision in April’s job growth, which was reduced to 1.3 percent from the 1.4 percent that the Labor Department reported last month. The revision is based on more complete data from local unemployment reports.