Employers across a range of industries have stepped up hiring. The economy gained 243,000 jobs in January, the most since last April. The hiring spree helped lower the unemployment rate for a fifth straight month, to 8.3 percent.
The reasons why businesses are hiring vary across industries. Among the employers adding jobs:
— Acquity Group, a website designer in Chicago, added about 100 people in the second half of 2011 and now has about 460. Jim Newman, an executive vice president, says it plans to add 200-250 this year. Acquity designs sites for companies such as Saks Fifth Avenue and General Motors Co. Newman says more companies see web-based advertising and communications as cost-efficient. And Acquity's clients have been willing to spend more on their websites. Last year, Newman noticed that marketing budgets began loosening up. "I don't think people are as nervous about the economy as they once were," he said.
— Rackspace Hosting Inc., a "cloud computing" company that maintains corporate websites and provides other services, says it hired about nearly 650 people last year and plans a similar number this year. The company says its clients have spent about 10 percent more on Rackspace's services compared with a year ago as their businesses have picked up. When online retailers receive a crush of sales, for example, they pay Rackspace for more computer capacity.
— Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific Corp., the nation's largest rail operator, has benefited from rising auto sales. Union Pacific ships cars for General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, including GM's popular Chevy Cruze. It also ships oil and gas, as well as drill pipes used to extract oil and natural gas from shale. "A lot of our growth is dependent on jobs, hiring and consumer spending," said Donna Kush, a spokeswoman. "We are expecting moderate growth in these areas" in 2012. Union Pacific added 1,500 jobs last year, raising its work force to about 46,000, Kush said. It foresees similar additions this year. The company is hiring engineers, mechanics and computer and communications specialists to maintain systems to track and dispatch railcars.
— Rising auto sales are straining Continental AG's ability to keep up with demand for its tires and leading to more hiring. The German company, which employs 10,000 in the United States, is building a tire plant in Sumter, S.C., and expanding another in Mt. Vernon, Ill. One reason car sales are improving is that many Americans are replacing aging vehicles, thereby spurring tire sales. Continental's stepped-up production will require adding jobs for several years. "We could sell a lot more tires to automakers if we had the capacity," said Kathryn Blackwell, a spokeswoman.
— When businesses develop products, some turn to Avomeen Analytical Services, which uses chemical techniques to evaluate them. Avomeen, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., tests pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, and industrial cleaners, among other products. It evaluates how long ingredients in new pharmaceuticals will last to assess the product's shelf-life. It also tests cosmetics for safety. Last year, Avomeen's clients began bringing more products to test, says Neil Thanedar, a co-founder.
— National-Oilwell Varco Inc., a Houston company that builds parts for oil drilling, hired about 5,000 people in 2011 and will likely do so again in 2012. National-Oilwell says it has about 700 open positions, mostly in Texas. Higher oil prices have sparked a surge in drilling projects, especially on land, where big oil drillers such as ExxonMobil Corp. and Chevron Texaco Corp. have learned to tap oil deposits in underground layers of shale rock. The Obama administration also re-opened the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico this year. That allowed companies to resume oil and gas exploration that was halted after BP's oil spill in 2010. "We still need to add a lot of folks," said Clay Williams, National-Oilwell's chief financial officer. "Demand for equipment for the oil field is pretty high."
— New York-based LocalVox Inc. is hiring to handle a growing roster of small-businesses clients hoping to capitalize on social media. Its software is intended to make it easier for clients to simultaneously update Facebook pages, tweets, websites and customer email lists with marketing announcements. Among its clients are Chelsea Piers, an entertainment complex, and restaurants, including Sushi Samba, Green Square Tavern and Umberto's Clam House. The company's payroll jumped from 10 to 30 employees last year; it plans to double it to 60 this year. "Everybody has to move their marketing dollars to the Internet," said Trevor Sumner, a co-founder.
AP Business Writers Christopher S. Rugaber in Washington and Christopher Leonard in St. Louis contributed to this article.