Capital Region hoteliers and restaurateurs took a vacation from hiring this summer, and the area’s accommodations and food services sector fell to its lowest employment level for June in eight years, according to statistics released Thursday by the state Department of Labor.
As inflation and $4-plus gasoline compelled consumers to eat out less and embark on “staycations” in their own back yards, the region experienced anemic job growth in June.
The area’s nonfarm labor force grew by 100 jobs to 453,800, compared with a year earlier. Nonetheless, that growth set a record high employment level for the month.
“I wouldn’t call it a strong record high,” said state Labor Department market analyst James Ross.
The region’s unemployment rate rose over the year by a full percentage point to 4.9 percent in June. That marked the highest rate for the month since 1992’s reading of 5.7 percent. Saratoga County had the state’s lowest unemployment rate at 4.5 percent.
During what is usually one of the year’s hottest hiring months, local hotels and restaurants hired 2,200 fewer workers, ending June with a work force level of 27,700. In 2000 — amid the dot-com bubble burst — the sector had 26,700 workers.
The financial activities sector also declined by 1,000 jobs over the year to 25,700 as banks and real estate firms continued to falter amid economic tumult. The retail trade sector also showed signs of weakness, growing over the year by only 100 jobs, to 49,800.
Retail trade has been hurting as higher food and gas prices chip away consumers’ buying power. By June, consumer prices were up 5 percent from a year earlier — marking the largest 12-month increase in 17 years.
The natural resources, mining and construction sector was another field that also posted disappointing gains during its near-peak season. The sector added 200 jobs to its ranks that totaled 19,600.
Buoying the region’s labor market in June was the professional, scientific and technical services sector, which over the year grew by 1,100 to 29,500.
The health care and social assistance sector contributed another 1,100 jobs, ending the month at 59,000.
“The jobs are down but business is up,” said Michael Dorr, a spokesman for the New York State Hospitality and Tourism Association, a Colonie trade group.
A recent survey by the hospitality association showed that 76 percent of hoteliers statewide said business over the Fourth of July holiday weekend was good or excellent and 66 percent of them reported occupancy rates were good or better than a year earlier.
However, Smith Travel Research statistics show the occupancy rate for the Albany/Schenectady area in May at 60.2 percent, unchanged from a year earlier.
The area’s occupancy rate for the first five months was 53.8 percent, down 0.6 point from the same period of 2007. Statistics for June were not available.
“I can see us laying off people if business conditions stay the same throughout the third quarter,” said Rocky Cocca, who employs 75 mostly part-time workers at his five area hotels, which include three Cocca’s Inn & Suites plus a neighboring La Quinta & Suites and Travelodge on Route 9 in Latham.
Business was down 16 percent during the first half at Cocca’s hotels. Cocca said his staffing levels have remained flat over the year, though some employees are working fewer hours.
Cocca said he had to hire a few extra workers at his Travelodge, which converted from a Cocca’s in May, to meet franchise requirements.
“We’re not cutting jobs. We’re going strong,” said Mounssif Slaoui, the general manager of the Hampton Inn in Schenectady.
Slaoui noted his 93-room hotel on State Street bucked the region’s hiring trend because the Hampton is a new hotel that opened in May 2007. The Hampton opened with about 25 employees and now has roughly 35.
Several new hotels have opened in the region over the last three years — including a 123-room Hampton Inn & Suites on Monday. The new hotels are increasingly putting pressure on older competitors, such as the Cocca’s chain.
Excluding hotels and restaurants, the region’s leisure and hospitality sector increased by approximately 1,400 jobs. Ross said that means recreational venues added jobs as consumers engaged in more local activities. Overall, the leisure and hospitality sector shed 800 jobs, ending June with 34,300 workers.
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