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Utah posts job growth, while county's focus turns to diversification

Sun Advocate reporter

Department of Workforce Services data shows the percentage of Utah vs. Colorado workforce and the discrepancy in the state's hourly wage. More than 50 percent of Utahns make less than $15 per hour according to DWS.

Last year, 54,900 jobs were created statewide in Utah.

In a recent press release, United States Sen. Bob Bennett's office also noted that the nation posted a record 49 straight months of job growth.

The U.S. milestone, coupled with Utah's 2.6 percent unemployment rate, demonstrates record statistics.

However, the data indicates that more than one-quarter of working Utahns make less than $10 an hour. And with more than 50 percent of employees in the state earning less than $15 per hour, analysts and development specialists question whether the statistics accurately convey the economy.

A Trendlines report compiled by Utah Department of Workforce Services economist Michael Hanni shows a wide base of lower paid workers in the state topped by a fairly small cap of highly paid employees.

"Like her sister states, roughly 60 percent of Utah jobs reported in the survey results paid $15 an hour or less. That is, of the 1,115,960 jobs accounted for in the survey, roughly 660,000 jobs were in this category," pointed out Hanni.

The workforce services economist reported that, of the nearly 700,000 jobs reported statewide, four occupations comprised 20 percent of Utah's labor force.

The occupations in question included the following:

•Retail salespeople.


•General office clerks.

•Customer service representatives

"It may not come as a surprise that these occupations are relatively low paying but the realization that they play a crucial role in supporting the full breadth of Utah's economy might," said Hanni.

The DWS economists compared Utah's wage pyramid with data of other states. Hanni made the assessment that Utah is not that much different from other states when factors such as industrial composition, cost of living and labor force are taken into consideration.

In fact, Utah ranked in the middle of the pack at 24th among the states with 50 percent or more of jobs falling into the $15 an hour or less range.

In Carbon County, the low unemployment rate has been something of a double edged sword, according to business expansion and retention administrator Karl Kraync.

Kraync's work with the Castle Country expansion and retention project has shown that a low percentage of unemployment may look good, but continues to make it difficult to attract industry to the area because there is no workforce available.

"The community is going to have to do something to try and provide better educational and skill enhancement for our local talent, that is one way to grow our workforce," said Kraync. "But realistically we are going to have to start looking at ways to recruit and bring people in. I feel that the disabled and older individuals that are still interested in working are a resource that goes largely untapped by many employers."

Kraync commented that while Carbon County does have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state, that number can be deceiving.

"Unemployment percentage is calculated by those who are actively drawing unemployment insurance or actively looking for a job. Those who have given up and are no longer trying are forgotten by the system," said Kraync. "What I'm saying is that realistically the unemployment rate in Carbon County is well above three percent."

Local officials are trying to expand the economy from within by retaining and growing local business.

"If you can help local business owners get ahead then they can afford to pay higher wages and give their employees insurance," explained Kraync. "The income in Carbon County is high because of the energy industry but once you get past that and state employment a lot of people are working for minimum wage. And the minimum wage is not yet a living wage."

One push within the BEAR program and from DWS is the development of manufacturing businesses in rural areas.

"While manufacturing jobs are high paying and skill intensive, both attractive attributes to a rural economy, they can't simply be willed into existence," said Hanni. "Compared with tourism related industries where you are the product and the consumer comes to you, manufacturing in a rural area has much steeper demands in terms of infrastructure and relative costs."

Carbon economic development director Delynn Fielding has been working to make tax and government incentives available to local businesses interested in expanding, especially in the manufacturing arena.

Fielding and Kraync see another upside to manufacturing.

"Economic diversification is essential to the Castle Valley region," said Kraync. "We go through the energy boom and bust every 20 years in this area and the busts get harder and harder. If we can plan now and diversify then when the energy industry slows down we will have an economy that will survive."

Economist Hanni makes clear in his report that another benefit of manufacturing is the possibility of selling to the government.

"As a business person, would you like to sell to a customer whose checks are always good? The government and military are ideal customers for Utah companies," said Hanni. "If your company sells a product or service to the general population, it is very likely that your same product or service can be sold to the government or military."

Government procurement has been encouraged by the governor's office of economic development and discussed at Castle County Economic Summit sessions in the past.

"Diversification and education are the keys to increasing the median wage here in Carbon County. And the keys to both avenues are the expansion and retention of both local business and the home grown talent that is stolen by other areas of the state because we can't provide them with enough opportunity locally," said Kraync. "The BEAR program along with county economic development is working toward the solution to this very problem."

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