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Maryland adds 2,900 jobs in July with unemployment steady at 4.3 percent

Maryland's unemployment rate remained steady in July as the state gained nearly 3,000 jobs, driven by strong growth in professional and business services, the U.S. Labor Department said.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the state's jobless rate Friday at 4.3 percent, the same as in June and lower than the national rate of 4.9 percent.

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July was the seventh month this year in which Maryland posted month-over-month job gains — though the Labor Department revised a June preliminary estimate from a gain of 9,800 jobs to 6,900.

Maryland's jobless rate has fallen significantly from July 2015, when it was 5.1 percent, to hold steady at a "pretty low" rate, said Ann Battle Macheras, an economist and vice president of research for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.

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"Over the year, unemployment came down and ... we've had decent job growth from month to month," Macheras said.

"It may have decelerated a little bit this month, but there's still growth in Maryland that's better than the national average," she said. "We've got a larger percentage of that labor force that's able to get jobs."

The Baltimore area's economy is driving employment growth for the state, she said.

July employment gains in Maryland were especially strong in the professional and business services sector, with an increase of 6,200 jobs, and in the education and health services sector, with a gain of 2,900.

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Hiring has picked up along with business this year for Hampstead-based C.J. Miller, a construction and excavation firm that has hired more than 100 people, including drivers, mechanics, heavy equipment operators, laborers, project managers and others, said David Slivosky, the company's human resources director. The company has expanded to 480 workers and expects to grow to 500 by the end of the year.

"We have a lot of business on the books right now," enabling the company to hire and invest in a new plant and new equipment, Slivosky said. "When the economy is healthy, there's confidence to do things like that."

But the state lost jobs in government, leisure and hospitality, and trade, transportation and utilities. Private-sector gains of 7,300 jobs were offset by 4,400 losses in the public sector, bringing the number of jobs gained in July to 2,900.

Slower growth in Maryland's public sector "seems to keep a lid on overall momentum," said Mekael Teshome, an economist with PNC Financial Services Group.

"Maryland is recovering," he said. "It is moving in the right direction. But it is a slow pace and a bumpy ride."

The state is benefiting from strong growth in the Washington area that is bringing jobs to suburban Maryland, said Anirban Basu, an economist and CEO of the Sage Policy Group Inc.

"When people speak about job creation in the Washington area, it has [previously] been about Northern Virginia, but not now," Basu said.

Job growth has also accelerated in Howard and Anne Arundel counties, where consumer spending has been strong and growing cybersecurity firms are located, he said.

"Over the past year, the state has been adding jobs at a faster clip than the balance of the country," he said.

Baltimore-based Gable is in the midst of a hiring spree, thanks to its expansion from a traditional signage company into one that also provides digital displays and media and LED lighting systems. The company has a couple of dozen job openings, spurred by growing demand for new technology from clients such as retail centers, stadiums and casinos across the country.

The company is growing faster than it can find workers to fill jobs as fabricators, technicians, project managers and graphic designers, said Matt Gable, executive vice president and chief operating officer.

"Our struggle right now ... is we can't find the right type of help," Gable said.

Training programs are helping to boost job creation. More than 1,000 residents have been placed through the state's industry-led EARN Maryland program, said officials with the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

"Businesses are returning to and expanding in our state, and that means more jobs and more opportunities for our top-notch workforce," Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement.

Nationally, unemployment rates were significantly higher in July in seven states, lower in three and stable in Maryland and the rest of the U.S., the Labor Department reported.

South Dakota and New Hampshire had the lowest jobless rates last month, at 2.8 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, while Alaska had the highest at 6.7 percent.

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