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Construction hiring spree boosts Long Island economy

Job seekers gather Oct. 7, 2014, at Nassau

Job seekers gather Oct. 7, 2014, at Nassau Coliseum to attend a private sector job fair hosted by Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

A record number of construction jobs in the past year helped the Long Island economy pick up its pace, state data released Thursday show.

The sector grew to a record 77,700 jobs in May, up 5,600 from May 2014, the latest state Labor Department employment report shows. The job gains were the highest among the sectors last month.

Construction, one of the Island's highest-paying industries, has been buoyed by hospital expansions and downtown revitalization projects, said Shital Patel, labor-market analyst in the department's Hicksville office. Its strong showing is significant because lower-wage jobs have dominated the Island's employment recovery.

Patel expects construction's growth to continue because of "lots of projects in the pipeline."

"It doesn't seem like there is going to be a slowdown anytime soon," she said.

John A. Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, said that big jumps in construction, retail and restaurant jobs between April and May augur well for the job market in the near term. Between April and May for example, construction had 7,200 more jobs, more than triple its usual gain.

"This is very encouraging news for Long Island's real estate market and for consumer spending," he said, "and suggests that one may anticipate stronger economic growth on Long Island in the coming months."

Overall, the Island had 14,100 more jobs last month than in May 2014, the department said. It was the biggest increase since February, when local employment was expanding at a rate of 15,200 jobs a year.

The Labor Department uses year-over-year comparisons because the data aren't adjusted to reflect seasonal swings in employment.

The private-education and health-services sector came in a close second in the latest report, with 5,300 more jobs.

Three sectors -- manufacturing, financial activities and information, which includes media companies -- tied for the most jobs lost at 1,100.

Even in some sectors that are contracting, people have found jobs. Islandia-based Empire National Bank hired Rob Schepis in March for the new position of senior vice president/chief lending officer. He is charged with boosting the banks' local commercial and industrial lending. Schepis previously worked at Sterling National Bank in Manhattan for more than four years before resigning to take the Empire job.

He said the key to a job-seeker's marketability in banking is to be well-versed in the industry and adept at networking.

"The broader your scope and understanding of banking, the more marketable you are," said Schepis, who found out about the Empire job through someone who knew both him and Empire's chairman, Douglas Manditch.

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