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Pittsburgh-area employers added 22,300 jobs in April

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Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Karlene Durso, who was recently hired as an assistant project engineer at Brayman Construction to work on the Hulton Bridge project in Oakmont, poses for a portrait on Wednesday, May 28, 2014.

Sunny Kourkoutis spent six months on unemployment and a couple more working in a job she hated before she found something that suited her restaurant experience.

“When I was on unemployment, I could have easily gotten a job as a server,” said Kourkoutis, 42, of Bridgeville. “But at my age, it’s not something I really saw myself doing.”

In April, Kourkoutis finally found a job she enjoyed. She was hired as reservations manager at Jacksons Restaurant in Cecil and since was promoted to assistant executive manager. In so doing, she joined a hospitality industry that added 8,100 jobs last month and has led growth in the local economy.

Employers in the seven-county Pittsburgh region added 22,300 nonfarm jobs in April, and the unemployment rate declined two-tenths of a percentage point to 5.6 percent, according to preliminary figures released on Wednesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry. The decline occurred as 3,900 more people began looking for work, an expression of confidence in Pittsburgh’s economy.

“This is encouraging; it’s moving in the right direction,” said Kurt Rankin, an economist at PNC Financial Services Group.

Pittsburgh’s unemployment rate stayed slightly below state and national averages. Pennsylvania’s rate dropped three-tenths of a percentage point in April to 5.7 percent, and the U.S. jobless rate is 6.3 percent.

Hiring in construction and professional and business services showed strong monthly and year-over-year gains.

Pittsburgh-area construction firms added 7,800 jobs in March. Construction firms had 3,000 more jobs in April compared with the same time last year, according to a survey of employers.

The boost in construction hiring may be from pent-up demand after a long winter pushed work later into the spring, said Frank Gamrat, an economist at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy. Contractors might be gearing up for projects included in the state transportation bill.

“You had Act 89 (state transportation bill) go into effect in November, and you’re starting to see some of that come forward in April as road construction starts to pick up and companies are hiring guys to get ready,” Gamrat said.

Karlene Durso benefited from an improved Pittsburgh jobs market. A civil engineer by training, the 46-year-old Plum resident spent the past 16 years as a stay-at-home mom and recently decided to return to work outside the home.

Durso lives near the Hulton Bridge, where workers are replacing the century-old structure. She approached the contractor, Brayman Construction, about a job.

She was hired as an assistant project engineer within three weeks.

“I thought I would give it a shot,” Durso said on Wednesday. “I didn’t expect it to go so well.”

Professional and business services showed strong gains in April, adding 3,500 jobs last month — 800 more than a year ago — in the Pittsburgh region.

The number of people reporting that they were employed jumped 20,000, according to the non-seasonally adjusted figures in a survey of households. It was the largest monthly gain since June 1996, though Rankin questioned whether those job gains would continue in the coming months. Other April hiring gains in past years have failed to take hold.

“The story is whether or not we can actually hold onto these newly created jobs as we have failed to do over the past two years,” Rankin said.

Manufacturers will be key if Pittsburgh’s jobs recovery is going to take hold, Rankin said. Hiring in that sector stayed level last month and is down 2,500 from a year ago.

Those typically are high-paying jobs that could do a lot to support the Pittsburgh economy.

If business investment picks up as expected, then manufacturing will reap the benefits, Rankin said.

“I’m optimistic for manufacturing, not only in the Pittsburgh area but around the country,” he said. “When businesses start spending their money, that’s going to create demand for manufactured goods, durable goods that businesses need to run to operate, and that’s going to help stabilize and bring up Pittsburgh’s manufacturing employment base.”

Chris Fleisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7854 or [email protected].

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