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Hiring slowed in the Buffalo Niagara region during February as a drop in factory and construction jobs offset strength within the local service sector, the state Labor Department said Thursday.

The region gained 1,200 jobs from February 2012 to February 2013 – a 0.2 percent annual growth rate that matched the sluggish pace of job gains across upstate New York but lagged badly behind the hiring increases both statewide and nationally.

“Normally, January and February are really slow months,” said John Slenker, the Labor Department’s regional economist in Buffalo. “Is it as strong as we’d like to see? No. But at least we’re positive.”

Slenker said the weak growth stems from a slower pace of hiring in the construction industry, contributing to a nearly 11 percent decline in construction jobs over the past year that the economist believes could be tied to this year’s persistent winter weather, which is in marked contrast to last year’s early start to spring.

Manufacturing, which had rebounded sharply last year after absorbing painful losses during the recession, also slipped, with the region losing 500 factory jobs, or about 1 percent of its total manufacturing employment, during the past year. The region also lost 1,800 government jobs – nearly 2 percent of the region’s total – mainly because of cutbacks due to tight budgets at local schools.

That weakness, however, was offset by strength in the service sector, with hiring by retailers rising by 1.3 percent, and the leisure and hospitality industry adding jobs at a 4 percent annual pace. Hiring at temporary help agencies, which often rises in the early stage of a recovery, grew at a 2.8 percent annual rate.

“I’m seeing growth in the areas of the economy where I would expect to see it,” Slenker said.

Still, the employment report indicates that the region’s job market remains weak by national – and even New York – standards. The pace of job growth locally is just a quarter of the 0.8 percent increase statewide during February and just a fraction of the 1.5 percent increase nationally.

The Buffalo Niagara region ranks in the bottom third for job growth among the state’s 14 major metropolitan areas, topping only Binghamton, Elmira, Rochester and Utica – each of which either lost jobs or had no growth during the past year.

The pace of job growth varied widely across rural portions of Western New York, ranging from a 3.2 percent jump in Wyoming County to a 0.5 percent decline in Allegany County. In between, the job market grew by 0.6 percent in Cattaraugus County, while it improved by 0.5 percent in Genesee County. The number of jobs slid by 0.2 percent in Chautauqua County.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com