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LI's private-sector jobs see year's strongest gain

Newly hired Fran Barsky and owner Kerry Punzi

Newly hired Fran Barsky and owner Kerry Punzi talk at The Cook's Fancy in Rockville Centre, Thursday. (Aug. 19, 2010) Credit: Sally Morrow

For the fourth straight month, the private-sector job count on Long Island rose compared with the same month the year before, this time by 8,600 positions, the strongest gain of the year, the state announced Thursday.

But economists cautioned that the growth was mainly in sectors with low-paying jobs.

"Overall it continues to be us [Long Island] ahead of the rest of the country," said Gary Huth, the department's principal economist for Long Island. "It's not a great report, but it does indicate that we continue to be on a growth track."

Whether the job growth is sustainable depends on factors outside of the Island's economy, such as national demand for products and services from local businesses like Henry Schein Inc., Northrop Grumman and Arrow Electronics, Huth said.

Long Island has weathered the difficult economic climate better than the rest of the state and nation in general, where the unemployment rate for July was 9.5 percent. The trade, transportation and utilities sector, which includes retail, led the way in July, increasing by 3,100 jobs from last July. The health care and education sector rose by 2,500 more jobs than a year ago.

The increases in these categories and others offset losses in other private job sector areas.

But the continued addition of jobs in lower-paying industries is a concern, said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association. "You have to keep in mind that of the 8,600 jobs, 3,000 were in retail trade, a fairly low-paying industry," Kamer said. "While we're strong on Long Island, analysts think retail sales will slow in the second half of the year, so that's not where you want job gains to be."

However, Kerry Punzi, the owner of a Rockville Centre gift shop, The Cook's Fancy, hopes the growth in sales she saw in the first half of the year will continue. She recently hired a part-time sales clerk - the first in almost three years - and has been interviewing to hire another.

Although sales dropped last month, revenues for the first half of this year were up by almost 17 percent compared to the same period in 2009, she said. Punzi's new hire, Fran Barsky, used to work in advertising, but with the industry downsizing, she said she was open to opportunities after searching for a job for a year and a half. "I like the environment," said Barsky, 48, of Oceanside.

Long Island continued to see job losses in its financial activities category, construction, and manufacturing, but the pace of those losses slowed, economists said. Manufacturing jobs, for example, decreased by 300 compared with 3,000 in June.

Melville-based Leviton Manufacturing Co., a privately held electrical and electronics supply company, has seen modest recovery and growth in some sectors and has seen modest hiring increases of 8 percent to 10 percent, said Mark Fogel, the company's vice president of human resources and administration.

Hiring is being driven not just by the economy but by the company's gain in market share and new markets - for example, the company's entry into electric vehicle charging. "Those are new growth opportunities for us," Fogel said.

Because of a yearly surge in summer job seekers, the unemployment rate typically rises by three- to four-tenths of a percent in July. This year it jumped from 6.7 percent in June to 7.2 percent in July - still below the 7.4 percent of July 2009.

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