NEW YORK (AP) - A trade group says U.S. service-oriented companies, the nation's predominant job generator, grew slightly faster in September as demand from customers improved.

It was the ninth straight month of expansion, but the pace of growth has been sluggish since early summer.

The Institute for Supply Management says its service-sector index rose to 53.2 last month from 51.5 in August. Economists had expected a lower reading of 52.

Readings above 50 signal growth, while levels below 50 indicate that activity is shrinking.

The index shows service companies have been expanding every month this year, but not as fast as the much smaller manufacturing sector. Companies that supply services are highly dependent on consumer spending.