DULUTH - Duluth and its neighboring communities shed more than 500 jobs last year even as the state overall managed to grow employment amid a slowing jobs market.

In the broadly defined Duluth metro area — St. Louis, Carlton and Douglas (Wis.) counties — employment was 0.4% lower at the end of 2019 than it was in 2018.

The state's other metro areas — the Twin Cities, Rochester, Mankato and St. Cloud — all fared better, if only slightly.

"Some of the overall very slow growth we're seeing now, 0.1% statewide, is definitely labor force shortages contracting hiring," said Oriane Casale, labor market expert with the Department of Employment and Economic Development. "We are 10 years into the longest expansion since World War II; the fact we're seeing some slowing in growth is not that surprising."

Many of the job losses were in prominent industries in the area.

Mining, construction and logging combined had 7% fewer employees at the end of the year than in 2018, while retail, leisure and hospitality jobs also were down.

Education and health care employment was largely stable.

Casale said revised numbers released in March will provide more clarity on the trend and that seasonal employment could be a factor.

"December is a tricky month to make a judgment on what's going on overall," she said.

The unemployment rate in the three-county area was 4.5% last month. Statewide it was 3.5%, not seasonally adjusted.