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Maryland sees big jobs gain in October

Megan Shoemaker of Fairless Hills, Pa., works on a Christmas stocking display at Kohl's in Yardley, Pa., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Kohl's plans to add 69,000 seasonal jobs, with hiring to start this month, "to ensure an easy shopping experience and great service during the busy holiday shopping season."
Megan Shoemaker of Fairless Hills, Pa., works on a Christmas stocking display at Kohl's in Yardley, Pa., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2015. Kohl's plans to add 69,000 seasonal jobs, with hiring to start this month, "to ensure an easy shopping experience and great service during the busy holiday shopping season." (William Thomas Cain / Tribune News Service)

Maryland added 10,800 jobs in October amid broad gains in the private sector, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

The state's unemployment rate, meanwhile, remained flat at 5.1 percent, the same as in September.

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Friday's report also revised previously reported job losses for September from 4,000 to just 300. The state has now recorded job gains in seven out of 10 months this year.

Richard Clinch, a Maryland-based research economist at the Battelle Memorial Institute, called the report "a good sign that things are turning around" in the state, which has lagged behind the nation's recovery.

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"The national economy is in slow, steady growth mode, and that's finally coming home to Maryland," Clinch said.

Maryland was among 40 states, plus the District of Columbia, to see jobs gains last month, with the largest coming in California, Ohio and Florida. Unemployment stood at 5 percent nationwide.

Gov. Larry Hogan, elected last fall, claimed credit for Maryland's strength.

"The upward trend in jobs and growth in business creation shows that Maryland's economy is improving and stabilizing," Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement. "It also indicates greater confidence in this administration's economic development policies as a driver of job creation. It's an indication of confidence in the economy and the direction it's going in — we're seeing that potential employers are feeling more confident about opening a business here in Maryland, than they have in the past."

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State Labor Secretary Kelly M. Schulz said the state now has almost 7,000 more businesses than in 2011, which she called the low point for business formation.

Maryland's October gains were driven by the private sector, which added 12,500 jobs. The largest gains came in the leisure and hospitality sector, which added 3,500 jobs, followed by professional and business services, which added 3,200 jobs.

Clinch said it was "a little troubling" that job growth in the professional, scientific and technical services sector was somewhat weak, growing only 0.5 percent, because that sector is a major player in Maryland's economy. But overall, he said, the picture was bright.

Retail trade added 2,000 jobs, likely in the lead-up to the holidays, while the manufacturing sector added 1,800 jobs and construction added 1,700 jobs. The state's Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation attributed the manufacturing gains to food manufacturing and printing.

Meanwhile, governments shed 1,700 jobs and the combined education and health sector gave up 1,300 jobs.

Many companies are growing across the state. Retailers large and small are hiring in advance of the holidays, and Amazon now employs 3,500 permanent workers at its new Baltimore distribution center, where it's still hiring seasonal workers.

Pinnacle Foods, a maker of food brands such as Birds Eye and Duncan Hines, has started hiring workers for a new plant in Hagerstown that's being refurbished over the next 18 months. The plant will employ 125 people and make products under the Gardein vegetarian brand, which Pinnacle acquired as part of its November 2014 purchase of Garden Protein International.

"The brand is quickly outgrowing the capacity of its Vancouver, B.C., facility, and it makes sense to add production capability on the East Coast of the U.S.," a Pinnacle spokeswoman said in an email.

G. Cefalu & Bro. Inc., a Jessup-based wholesale distributor of fresh produce and seafood, has increased its workforce by about 60 percent over the last three years to 250. The more recent hires have included warehouse jobs and delivery drivers who serve 600 to 700 restaurants and grocery stores a day.

"It's been the result of organic growth," said Mark Moderacki, president of G. Cefalu. "We've grown our business in the Mid-Atlantic region" by taking market share from competitors and finding new customers among the growing number of groceries and restaurants in the area. "We've expanded our sales team, which has allowed us to penetrate the market."

Because G. Cefalu's current facility is at capacity, the business will move in June into a new warehouse nearby. That facility will be three times as big and allow the business to increase the workforce by another 50 percent over the next five years, Moderacki said.

Daraius Irani, chief economist at Towson University's Regional Economic Studies Institute, said he thought the rise in jobs could reflect the resolution of federal budget battles in Washington last month. Job creators may be feeling more confident as well given gains in the overall national economy, he added.

"It seems like the numbers are trending in the right direction," Irani said.

He urged caution on the jobs figures though, which were revised upward for September and have been revised later on in other months.

"There's so many revisions in the past that it's hard to say we're definitely going to see a 10,000 increase," he said.

Clinch also said Marylanders should not expect a repeat every month of adding nearly 11,000 jobs. Many Marylanders work in Washington or in other states, Clinch added, which likely would explain why the state's unemployment rate remained flat despite the boom in jobs.

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