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Region’s job growth cools to 1.4 percent during October

Despite a red-hot construction market, the Buffalo Niagara job market is cooling off a bit as winter approaches.

The Buffalo Niagara region added jobs at its slowest pace in six months during October, growing at an annual pace of 1.4 percent, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

The region now has 7,700 more jobs that it did a year ago as the building boom prompted construction firms to boost their employment to its highest level in at least 25 years, and employers tapped into temporary help to meet their staffing needs. Those strengths helped offset job cuts at local stores heading into the busy holiday season and a stronger-than-usual seasonal slowdown in employment at local bars and restaurants.

The region’s 1.4 percent annual job growth during September was the slowest since April and less than the 1.7 percent increase through the first 10 months of this year. But even so, October’s more subdued job growth is almost double the pace of hiring throughout the region’s during all of 2014.

At the same time, the Labor Department reported the region’s job growth during September was stronger than initially reported, with hiring running at a 1.5 percent annual pace rather than the 1.4 percent increase the agency initially reported last month. The revised figure is based on more extensive employment reports that companies file with the Labor Department.

“This has been a very good year,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “We might have had a little bubble during the summer, but these are good, solid numbers for us.”

The construction industry continues to drive the local job market. Construction jobs grew by 20 percent over the past year as work progressed on major building projects, such as the SolarCity solar panel factory and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

“There’s still a lot of stuff going on,” Slenker said. “Normally, we’re winding down.”

Hiring within a category that includes temporary help agencies grew by 5 percent, while education and health services firms added workers at a 4 percent annual pace.

On the downside, government jobs shrunk by a little more than 1 percent, mainly because of cutbacks by state and local government agencies. The number of leisure and hospitality jobs fell by 2.2 percent, while retail jobs declined by 1 percent.

The slower October hiring came after the region’s job market enjoyed its hottest four-month stretch since 1988, with job growth topping 2 percent during every month from May to August.

Job growth locally now has averaged 1.7 percent during the first nine 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 1989.

The number of private-sector jobs hit another high during October, rising by 1.8 percent over the last year.

Total employment, which includes government jobs, also hit its highest point for any October in at least 25 years.

The 27,000 local construction jobs also were a record high for October and the increase of 1,300 jobs ran contrary to the region’s historical hiring patterns, which typically see the sector lose jobs or hold steady from September to October. The number of construction jobs set a record for any month, dating back to 1990, topping the old record of 26,900 that was set in August.

The region’s slow but steady growth in its job market now has continued for 37 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 66 straight months.

But while the October job growth is strong by local standards, it is sluggish on both a nationwide and statewide scale. Job growth across the United States averaged 1.9 percent during October, while the state grew by 1.8 percent.

Among the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas, Buffalo Niagara’s job growth was tied with Rochester for fourth-strongest, trailing only New York City, Orange-Rockland-Westchester counties and Nassau-Suffolk counties.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com