With several companies announcing local expansions in recent weeks and the lowest unemployment rate re-corded in the area last month, it’s no wonder local employers are gearing up for steady job growth in the next quarter.

According to results of the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey released Tuesday, Danville area employers expect to hire at a respectable pace during the first three months of next year.

From January to March, 13 percent of local companies interviewed plan to hire more employees, while none expect to reduce their payrolls, Manpower spokeswoman Marilyn Foster said.

Another 87 percent of local employers expect to maintain current staffing levels.

While the job retention trend remains strong, Manpower points out local hiring will be slightly weaker in the next three months compared to the current quarter. However, the projections are similar to the same time last year.

“In the Danville area, employers expect less hiring activity than in the fourth quarter when 28 percent of the companies in-terviewed intended to increase headcount and 3 percent planned to decrease it,” Foster said.

“Employers’ hiring intentions are similar to a year ago when 20 percent of companies surveyed thought job gains were likely and 7 percent intended to cut back.”

For the coming quarter, job prospects appear best in durable and non-durable goods manufacturing, wholesale/retail trade and services. Hiring in construction, transportation/public utilities, finance/insurance/real estate, education and public admini-stration is expected to remain unchanged.

Vicki Haugen, president and CEO of Vermilion Advantage, said the results of her quarterly survey of local employers closely mirror Manpower’s findings.

She said her job projections survey “coincides” with Manpower’s “survey that call(s) early ’07 ‘steady.’”

In a monthly report, 44 percent of local employers expect to hire in the first quarter, Haugen said.

“I’m sure the main difference in the two projections is that ours concentrates on the core employers, while Manpower would have more retail and service in their mix,” she said.

Haugen said the bottom line is the local job outlook is solid.

Nationwide, employers have reported steady hiring plans for more than two years. Although the national first-quarter job forecast is similar to last quarter and last year at this time, a subtle downward shift has emerged. Manpower officials say it’s too early to note if this is a trend of more cautious hiring plans.

Of the 14,000 U.S. employers surveyed, 23 percent expect to add to their payrolls during the first quarter, while 11 percent expect to reduce staff levels. Sixty percent expect no change in the hiring pace, while 6 percent are undecided about their hiring plans for the first three months of the year.