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Carbon's economy remains strong as labor force expands

Carbon's economy continues to maintain a solid footing although the county's employment portfolio suffered a slight hit in second quarter 2007.

The latest data compiled by the Utah Department of Workforce Services indicate that Carbon County lost approximately 90 labor force positions during the second quarter.

The loss of 90 local jobs represented a 0.9 percent employment decline compared to the statistics reported by Carbon County in 2006.

Previous layoffs at local administrative support firms, coupled with the prior sawmill closure and employment reporting adjustments in education, accounted for the loss of employment in Carbon County, pointed out Michael Hanni, department of workforce services economist.

However, strong employment gains were posted in industries like construction at 73 positions and mining at 41 jobs.

The expanding local labor force suggests that Carbon's economic fundamentals remain solid, noted the department of workforce services economist.

In neighboring Emery County, employment slid in second quarter 2007, explained Hanni.

During the last year, Emery experienced a 2.8 percent decline in the number of local jobs for a loss of roughly 115 positions.

Layoffs continued to keep mining employment from reaching previous levels.

The situation has spread somewhat into related industries, noted the department of workforce services economist.

For example, Emery's transportation industry posted a loss of 70 jobs.

The Crandall Canyon disaster last August represented a pain painful reminder of the dangerous nature of the work undertaken by Castle Valley coal miners.

"In the aftermath of the tragedy as the semblance of normal life returned, a common question arose and was often directed at my office - what will the economic impact of this event be for the area?" commented Hanni. "Unfortunately, that is a question that is hard to answer for many reasons, not the least of which being how can we talk about cold numbers at a time of such grieving?"

"Beyond that delicate issue comes another, more vexing in terms of numbers, issue," added the department of workforce services economist. "That is, with the lags in data collection inherent in our programs, we can't yet actually see the impact of what happened in the aftermath of Aug. 6. With that said, there are some ways we can gauge the potential impact, at least in terms of jobs, to the area."

One method involves examining how different coal mining areas have fared after undergoing similar tragedies.

An example is the Sago mine incident in January 2006, explained the department of workforce services economist. Upshur County in West Virginia witnessed a slight slowdown for several months as mining activity in the area adjusted to the new realities on the ground.

"However, the relative size of that mine didn't create as large an impact as we might expect in Utah's coal county," said Hanni.

A second potential indicator of what may be happening in the affected areas involves the number of unemployment insurance claims being filed in Carbon and Emery counties, pointed out the Utah Department of Workforce Services economist.

"The data is collected in a much more timely fashion and, while it is not always a reliable indicator, it may be insightful for us now. Looking at the latest data, we see that there was a spike in September claims that was unusually large when compared with previous years," pointed out Hanni. There may be many reasons for this increase, but it seems likely that the events of August have played a role in these numbers.

The data also clearly shows the impact of previous mine layoffs in the area in January 2007. The full impact of this tragedy will take years to unravel and fully appreciate."

"While the loss of loved ones is immediate and recognizable, the economic impacts tend to make themselves felt over time. In the coming months, as more data becomes available, we will have a better idea of just what the impact of Aug. 6 was and what the future holds," indicated Hanni.

At the regional level, Grand posted employment expansion, but at a slower rate than reported by the county in 2006.

San Juan witnessed the strongest economy in the four southeastern Utah counties in second quarter 2007, according to the regional data compiled by the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

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