The unemployment rate in Chester County remained steady between February and March, weighing in at a seasonally adjusted 3.3 percent.

According to statistics released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, there were 100 fewer people unemployed in the county during March than in February, when that number stood at 8,500.

Peter Phelan, a Philadelphia regional analyst with Labor and Industry, said the employment picture remains strong in Chester County. And improving job numbers are heating up as the weather warms, with landscape companies, golf courses, restaurants and construction companies gearing up for the typical warm weather surge of business.

"This report bodes well for Chester County," said Steven Cochrane, senior economist with Moody's, an economic consulting firm in West Chester. "The U.S. and local economies are on a tear again."

Cochrane sounded one caution: If the Chester County jobless rate falls to 3 percent or below for several months in a row, labor shortages will begin to crop up.

"This could be bad news for employers, who may have to pay out more to attract the people they want to hire," Cochrane said.

He said the national labor market for skilled workers is showing signs of tightening up. "We're seeing it here at Moody's," he said.

In Pennsylvania, the jobless rate remained steady at 4.5 percent in March. The state's employers created 16,000 new jobs in first-quarter 2006, compared to 14,000 jobs in third-quarter 2005 and the same number in fourth-quarter 2005.

For the nation as a whole, the jobless rate fell in March, from 4.8 percent in February to 4.7 percent. The U.S. economy created 211,000 jobs in March, with most economists expecting another 225,000 new positions to be added in April.

National jobless statistics for April will be released Friday.

Cochrane believes that, with a continued high rate of new jobs creation, the national jobless rate could fall to 4.6 percent.

Clouds on the economic horizon continue to be historically high gasoline prices, rising interest rates and inflation. Cochrane and other prognosticators expect that Federal Reserve Board members will boost the federal funds rate 25 basis points to 5 percent when next they meet May 10.

Chester County had the third-lowest unemployment rate among the state's 67 counties during March, with only Franklin (3.1 percent) and Adams (3.2 percent) besting its 3.3 percent. Rounding out the top five were Lancaster and Lebanon counties at 3.4 percent each, and Cumberland at 3.5 percent.

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