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Front Page » July 14, 2005 » Local News » Workforce services evaluates status of county's labor mar...
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Workforce services evaluates status of county's labor market, economy

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Carbon County ended last year with roughly 51 fewer employment opportunities than in 2003. The decrease represents a local job loss of 0.6 percent.

"With the latest employment data for the fourth quarter of 2004, we can look back at the year and see where we were and where we are going," explained Michael Hanni, regional/labor economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

The pick-up in job growth in the latter half of 2004 is encouraging for Carbon County's economy.

The positive economic sign was reflected in the local unemployment rate, which retreated from a high of 6.9 percent in January to the year's lowest 5.4 percent level in December 2005.

In addition, construction permit data and gross taxable sales point to Carbon County's improving economic health, noted Hanni.

However, the county's current unemployment rate remains missing in action as the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics continued with the federal government's transition to a new statistical model, indicated the department or workforce services economist.

A new unemployment series for Carbon County should be available later in the summer.

Year-over job growth in fourth quarter 2004 reached 1.4 percent in the county.

"Simply put, between the fourth quarters of 2003 and 2004, Carbon County added 121 jobs," commented the department of workforce services economist. "This marks the second straight quarter of positive employment growth."

"Perhaps the thing that jumps out the most in the latest data is the strong growth in the county's manufacturing sector. A gain of 77 jobs in this sector is a little surprising in a time when rural areas are seeing their manufacturing bases all but disappear, added Hanni.

But on a negative note, the department of workforce services economist confirmed that one of Carbon County's traditional industries displayed increased weakness in fourth quarter 2004.

Employment in the local coal industry stumbled as underground mining operations shed jobs.

In addition, employment positions in support services for oil and gas extraction was nearly halved last year.

Overall the county's mining industry lost 50 jobs compared to 2003

On the positive side of the local economic spectrum, the service producing industries created 57 employment opportunities, though the growth belies serious volatility, continued Hanni.

However, Carbon County's retail trade and government sectors along with professional and business services posted double digit declines in employment positions in last year.

Cuts in education primarily accounted for the decrease in in the number of local government jobs in the county.

The losses in the local retail trade, government, professional and business sectors were offset by gains in health care services and accommodations and food services. It isn't clear what all this movement in the service sector means, but one thing we are watching is if labor is being shifted into lower paying industries. This possibility will require further research before a firm answer can be given.

Wage data provides another window on the county's labor market. Average annual wages rose 5.2 percent in 2004 over 2003. With inflation rising 2.7 percent nationwide in 2004, the county still experienced a healthy 2.5 percent increase. Higher wages fuel additional purchases of goods and services which, in turn, create additional economic opportunities in the county.

Construction valuation jumped in fourth quarter. Unincorporated Carbon County was the clear beneficiary of increased construction activity at the end of last year. When the latest data is compared with that of the same quarter in 2004, the value of permits issued for those areas rose roughly 155 percent. This jump made up for losses in the county's towns, allowing the county wide total valuation to rise from $4.84 million in 2003 to $8.14 million in 2004.

After several quarters of holding steady at 5 percent growth, year-over taxable sales in fourth quarter 2004 increased by 13.3 percent. Business investment purchases leapt, suggesting that the county's economic health continues to improve. Echoing the increase, wholesale and retail sales were robust in the quarter. Service sales, while smaller in magnitude, also grew, helped in part by a near doubling in hotel and lodging sales.

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