The pace of small business employment growth slowed in December, according to payroll giant Paychex and the research firm IHS, but remains in positive territory.

Job growth continued last month, even though the Paychex IHS Small Business Jobs Index declined 0.18 percent in the past 12 months, bringing the national index to 100.56 in December, but still above the 100 level indicating positive growth.

With the strongest 12-month growth rate, the West North Central region maintained its lead among the regions. At 102.64, Washington continued to be the top-performing state for the third consecutive month. Dallas, meanwhile, held the top position among metro areas, despite a .64 percent one-month decline.

“With the index maintaining a level above 100, we’re still seeing small business employment growth,” said Paychex president and CEO Martin Mucci in a statement. “But the growth rate does appear to be moderating. As we begin the New Year, it will be interesting to see the impact falling energy prices and the power shift in Washington have on the country’s small businesses in the months ahead.”

Washington ended 2014 with the highest state index at 102.64, while Texas, Wisconsin and Michigan also exceeded 102. North Carolina and Georgia led all states in one-month growth rates for December, while Georgia had the best 12-month growth rate as well. With an index level below 98, New Jersey and Virginia are the worst-ranked states and, according to the BLS, have been in the bottom five among states in overall employment gains.

Despite a sharp decline in December, Dallas continued to lead the metro index at 102.84. Leading in year-over-year gains at 2.23 percent, Minneapolis has steadily risen to the second-ranked metro index. Chicago spiked 0.55 percent in December bringing its index level to 101.05, while Atlanta and Detroit also had solid one-month gains, according to Paychex and IHS. Tampa Bay and Washington metros fell below 99 in December and ended 2014 the lowest-ranked metro indices.

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