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Carbon County reports expanding economy, climbing employment rate

Carbon County continued to experience employment expansion last month.

Carbon County's job growth rate registered at 3.9 percent between April 2006 and April 2007.

The number of non-farm wage and salary jobs reported in the county climbed from 9,346 to 9,707 during the last 12-month period.

At the state level, Utah's number of non-farm wage and salaried jobs grew 4.5 percent between April 2006 and April 2007.

Statewide employment growth has remained steady at the 4.5 percent level throughout 2007, according to the latest economic data compiled by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

Approximately 54,000 jobs were created in the Utah economy, raising total wage and statewide salary employment to 1,247,800.

Utah's second primary indicator of labor market conditions, the unemployment rate, measured at 2.5 percent in April, down from the 3.1 jobless level posted last year.

Approximately 33,700 Utahns were unemployed in April 2007, compared to 40,000 in April 2006.

By comparison, the United States' unemployment rate registered at 4.5 percent in April.

"Utah is riding a sustained period of employment growth. It began in late 2003 and is rolling on into its fourth year," explained Mark Knold, department of workforce services economist. "During that time, we became one of the better performing state economies in the nation, but generally trailed Nevada and Arizona for top billing."

"But from what I can ascertain now, looking at recent bureau of labor statistics data measuring all the states, we are now the best performing state economy in the nation. Nevada and Arizona have slowed just enough to allow Utah to move ahead. Our neighbors are still doing well - Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, and Nevada - but right now, we stand at the top," pointed out the DWS economist.

At the national level, the United States economy added 1.9 million employment opportunities during the one-year period for a growth rate of 1.4 percent, indicated the department of workforce services. approximately 54,000 jobs created in Utah represented about 2.8 percent of all positions created nationwide.

There is current irony in the relationship between the Utah economy and the greater U.S. economy, noted Knold. Intuition would imply that Utah would benefit from a stronger national economy. But currently, Utah is in a better position as a result of a weaker U.S. economy.

With the state's low unemployment rate, Utah needs the excess labor that different regions in the U.S. will provide, explained Knold.

The excess labor pool would dry up if the nation's economy became stronger and the workers decided to remain in the regions rather than coming to Utah for employment.

The situation occurred in the late 1990s when Utah's economy weakened as the U.S. economy strengthened.

"We lost our labor inflow and Utah's then strong employment growth lost its fuel. As it stands now, pockets of weakness throughout the United States seem to be sufficient to supply Utah with the additional labor that it needs. This domestic inflow is especially beneficial to the higher paying, knowledge-based jobs that Utah is producing and that an economy needs to enhance its earnings and wealth," explained Knold. "International labor flows, though potentially controversial to mention, are providing Utah with a supply of lesser-skilled labor that might otherwise be an area of labor shortfall in a hyper-low unemployment environment like Utah's."

Employment growth remained strong in all Utah sectors in April, with the exception of the state's information industries.

The information sector has recorded a slight employment loss during the last 12 months.

"April was the first month in several years where we were actually seeing a year-over job loss in an industrial sector," said Knold. "But even that one is tempered as it is really more of an accounting loss than an actual job loss."

America Online in Ogden closed, but Teleperformance absorbed most of the workers, explained the DWS economist. But on paper, the jobs were lost in the information sector and transferred to the professional-business services industry.

The information sector is dominated by the telecommunications industry. The telecommunications industry is struggling to revive after the tech-bubble bust earlier in the decade.

Other than the information sector anomaly, all other industries are growing at a steady pace in Utah.

Construction continues as the strongest employment growth area, outdistancing all other industries.

There is a subtle change underway in the fundamentals of the construction industry, noted Knold. Residential construction permit activity began to surge in early 2003, culminating in an historic high in mid- 2006. But the peak has passed and permit authorizations, although still historically high, are noticeably trending downward.

But non-residential activity has stepped in to fill the void. A surge in non-residential construction usually lags a surge in residential construction by roughly two years, continued the DWS economist.

Utah's non-residential construction valuation started to surge in early 2005. The sector is still in the process of developing and climbing to a peak.

Residential construction is more labor intensive than non-residential, pointed out Knold. But with all the commercial and industrial construction underway in Utah, the net effect should be continued construction employment growth through 2007 and into next year

The broader picture of housing-related employment in Utah has grown from 8 percent of all of the state's employment in 2000 to more than 10 percent.

The sector includes construction, real estate, building material stores and mortgage brokers.

In December 2006, Utah's overall economic growth registered at 4.9 percent. If the housing-related portion of the statewide economy were removed, Utah's overall growth would drop nearly one percentage point, concluded the DWS economist.

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