Area employers report “bullish” hiring intentions during the first quarter of 2004, according to the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey.

From January to March, 67 percent of the companies interviewed say they plan to hire more employees, while only 10 percent intend to reduce their workforce, according to Manpower. Another 23 percent expect to maintain their current staff levels.

Manpower surveyed 60 companies in Wake, Durham and Orange counties. Among survey participants, the job outlook in the Raleigh area is the second best in the nation, behind only Rochester, NY.

“Raleigh area employers reported very dynamic staffing plans for the fourth quarter when 47 percent of the companies interviewed predicted an increase in hiring activity, while none planned to decrease the hiring pace,” said Jeff Stocks, president and CEO of Manpower in North Carolina. “A year ago at this time, employers forecast a downbeat job outlook when none of the companies surveyed thought employment increases were likely and 3 percent intended to cut back.”

For the coming quarter, the Manpower study says job opportunities appear best in construction, durable and non-durable goods manufacturing, transportation/public utilities, finance/insurance/real estate, education, services and public administration. Employers in wholesale/retail trade have mixed hiring intentions, the firm said.

The national results of the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey reveal that U.S. employers continue to show optimism in their hiring forecast for the first quarter of 2004.

For the first time in five years, employers expressed an increase in hiring expectations from the fourth quarter to the first quarter. Of the 16,000 U.S. employers that were polled, 20 percent said they plan to boost employment levels for the first three months of 2004, while 13 percent anticipate a slower hiring pace.

Sixty-one percent of employers expect to offer the same number of jobs as last quarter, and 6 percent are unsure of their first quarter employment activity. When the seasonal variations are removed from the survey results, the data reveals that the hiring forecast from January to March is more positive than it was last quarter and relatively consistent with the outlook a year ago.

The Manpower Employment Outlook Survey is conducted quarterly to measure employers’ intentions to increase or decrease the number of employees in their workforce during the next quarter.