Employment at firms in Northern Ireland grew at the fastest rate in over a decade during March, a Bellwether business survey said today.
The Ulster Bank purchasing managers' index (PMI) said firms in Northern Ireland were now in their third quarter in a row of strong growth.
And hiring bore the strongest evidence of the robustness of the recovery – a finding reinforced in last week's announcement of 1,000 new jobs at call centre firm, Concentrix, in Belfast.
US healthcare network firm, Navinet, has also announced it has reached the milestone of having 50 staff in Northern Ireland – prompting it to move its Belfast research and development site to bigger premises in the Northern Ireland Science Park.
According to today's PMI, Northern Ireland can now claim the highest rate of growth in employment of all UK regions, with manufacturers taking people on at the fastest rate since the index began.
Ulster Bank chief economist, Richard Ramsey, said: "At the end of the first quarter of 2014, it is clear that Northern Ireland's private sector recovery is still firing on all cylinders."
The pace of expansion had admittedly slowed down in March – but Mr Ramsey said an acceleration in new orders, which have been on the up for 10 months, suggests growth would continue.
And business growth was feeding into job creation "with renewed vigour," the economist said, with firms increasing their headcount at the fastest rate since the survey began in 2002.
He added: "On a quarterly basis, the first quarter of 2014 saw Northern Ireland's private sector employment expand at its fastest rate in seven years."
But not all sectors were galloping ahead at the same pace, with manufacturing, services, construction and retail diverging.
"Retailers posted a significant slowdown in the pace of growth in business activity, orders and employment.
"Nevertheless, the sector is still expanding at a healthy rate.
"The manufacturing industry also saw an easing in the growth rates of business activity and new orders, albeit from the record rates posted a few months ago," he added.
"Encouragingly, however, the manufacturing sector increased its staffing levels at its fastest rate on record in March."
The long-suffering construction industry experienced record growth in job creation and new orders.
And business was also accelerating for the services sector, with new orders close to a record high and employment growing at its fastest rate since August 2007.
But there were some downsides, according to Mr Ramsey. Inflationary pressures were growing – particularly for construction, with the result that it was putting its prices up.
That was a consequence of increased demand in the sector, Mr Ramsey said.
Today's purchasing managers' index survey of businesses reveals record jobs growth in firms in Northern Ireland. Ulster Bank, which commissions the index, said the jobs growth was due to increased workloads. New jobs were being created in manufacturing, services and construction sectors. Jobs growth here was faster than in any other UK region –
a quicker pace than at the UK level.