Maryland gained 9,300 jobs in April as businesses threw off the paralyzing effects of the frigid winter, according to federal estimates released Friday.

The state's unemployment rate inched down to 5.5 percent as more Marylanders got back to work, the U.S. Department of Labor said. The jobless rate was 5.6 percent in March.

Some of the April gain is likely driven by jobs reappearing after temporary reductions forced by the sharply cold winter, said Gus Faucher, a senior economist for PNC Financial Services Group. Maryland lost 6,100 jobs in January, followed by a tepid 1,000-job gain in February.

But the April expansion is a good sign, he said. It follows a 3,500-job increase in March, better growth than the Labor Department originally estimated for that month, and unemployment dropped even as the total labor force grew.

"It does seem to indicate that Maryland has bounced back from the winter," Faucher said.

Baltimore economist Anirban Basu sees the same trend. After winter froze some of the economic momentum in Maryland and the U.S., growth is picking up again, he said.

"It's a good report, and I think it signals ongoing economic improvement for the next few months," said Basu, who heads Sage Policy Group, an economic and policy consulting firm.

Employment in much of the country grew in April. Job bases expanded in 39 states and Washington, D.C., the Labor Department said.

In Maryland, growth was largely in the private sector. Government agencies accounted for 1,700 of the additional jobs in April.

Professional services — a sector that includes a wide swath of jobs from accountants to computer engineers — added 3,100 jobs, the biggest gain. Other sizable increases came in construction, up 1,900 jobs; education and health services, up 1,800 jobs; and trade, transportation and utilities, up 1,600 jobs.

Several sectors saw losses, the largest of those a 900-job cut in leisure and hospitality.

April's estimates are preliminary. The Labor Department adjusted these figures to try to account for normal seasonal variations.

About 172,000 Marylanders were out of work and actively looking in April, the agency said. That's down by about 10,000 from the beginning of the year, but still high for Maryland, which saw its pool of unemployed people dip below 100,000 just before the recession hit in 2008.

Joe Gonzales, a regional vice president focusing on Maryland for staffing services firm Robert Half, said improvements in the job market have made workers more comfortable about switching employers. During the rough years, he said, people "stayed as hunkered down as possible."

Now, he said, "there's a lot more overall confidence."

Gonzales said Robert Half is seeing consistent demand in the area for accounting, finance and tech workers. There's also been an uptick in need for administrative help.

Some companies are expanding after pulling back during the recession and its long aftermath. Others never stopped growing.

Miller's Minuteman Press, a printing, graphic design and mailing company in Hunt Valley, falls in the second category, said Lester Miller, executive vice president there. In the last 14 years, the firm went from a two-person operation to more than 80 workers.

Now officials there are building a new headquarters and production facility in Owings Mills to give them room for more expansion. Miller said they hope to move in by the end of the year.

"We've doubled our [work] force in the last three years," he said. "There's no reason we can't continue."

For the Baltimore region and the state as a whole, PNC's Faucher expects less runaway job growth. His jobs forecast is for gains that are "a little bit weaker than the national economy in the near term," as federal spending cuts continue to ripple through the area.

That's what Basu expects, too, but he sounds more optimistic than he was a few months ago.

"There's a feeling right now that the economy has begun to recover in earnest," he said.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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