Southern Arizona's biggest employers grew their payrolls less than 1 percent in 2012, according to the latest Star 200 survey by the Arizona Daily Star.

The results - which generally track overall employment trends in the region - showed gains in aerospace and construction were offset by continued declines in government, defense, schools and nonprofits.

And the data show that despite Arizona's stubbornly high unemployment rate of 7.9 percent, jobs are available for job seekers with skills in high demand. (See the Star 200 special section in today's paper for more on workforce-development efforts.)

"For every occupation, and there are hundreds, for every one of those there is a labor market - a supply of people with those skills and a demand from companies for people with those skills," said University of Arizona economist Marshall Vest.

"It really varies depending on what companies might be looking for right now and the skills you have."

Though the Star 200 survey covers only the largest employers, it reflects larger economic trends.

"It doesn't tell the whole story, but it's indicative, I think," said Vest, director of the Economic and Business Research Center at the UA's Eller College of Management.

"It depends on the industry. You have some very large companies in very mature industries that aren't going to change much one way or another. Most of the growth and job creation, it is argued, comes from smaller business."

Even so, many Star 200 businesses meet the definition of a "small business" - which for federal small-business programs can include employers of up to 500 workers, Vest noted.

The UA economic-research center has forecast job growth of 1.4 percent this year in the Tucson Metropolitan Statistical Area, which comprises all of Pima County. That follows a forecast of about 0.6 percent in 2012, which matches the state's estimate for actual job growth in the Tucson area on a seasonally unadjusted basis.

In an encouraging sign, only nine Star 200 employers indicated they expect staffing to decrease this year, while 47 expect to increase staffing. The rest indicated they expect no change or did not respond to the question.

The University of Arizona keeps the title of the region's largest employer, showing a workforce increase of about 1.5 percent to 10,846 full-time-equivalent employees.

Raytheon Missile Systems remains second to the UA overall and first among the region's private employers.

The U.S. Army Intelligence Center and Fort Huachuca dropped out of the top 10 of the Star 200, losing more than 1,000 employees including soldiers in a signal unit that was recently relocated.

Overall, Star 200 employment increased 0.7 percent in 2012. That compares with estimates by the state Department of Administration pegging 2012 growth rates of 2.1 percent state-wide, 0.6 percent in Pima County and 1.6 percent for counties except Maricopa, Pima and Pinal.

In other Star findings:

• The region's aerospace sector had the biggest percentage growth, posting a 10 percent gain overall as companies including Bombar-dier Aerospace, B/E Aerospace and Sargent Aerospace and Defense continued to grow.

• Construction gained 4 percent and mining and agriculture gained 3 percent, largely on an 8 percent increase in Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold's workforce.

• Star 200 employment in the manufacturing and research sector rose 3 percent overall as Oro Valley-based Ventana Medical Systems/ Roche Diagnostics continued to grow.

• Military and defense employment fell 4 percent, mainly due to the Fort Hua-chuca reductions, and Ray-theon Missile Systems was down slightly while several Sierra Vista contractors cut back.

• Government-sector employment was essentially flat, as a 3 percent decline in state employment in the region was offset by gains at the U.S. Customs & Border Protection/Border Patrol, and some city employment rose slightly after falling for the past few years.

The overall total of 218,609 employees counted in the 2012 survey represents about 40 percent of total nonfarm employment in the six-county survey area of Pima, Pinal, Cochise, Santa Cruz, Graham and Greenlee counties.

For consistency, the Star 200 counts full-time equivalent employees, which is the sum of all full-time workers plus the number of part-timers reduced to the proportion of a full-time week they work, on average.

The Star 200

Find the Star 200 special section inside the Star today, with a list of the region's top employers and a look at boosting job-training efforts in Southern Arizona. To view the online database on Starnet, go to

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@ azstarnet/com or 573-4181.