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Carbon's economy continues to falter

Carbon County's economy continued to falter throughout first quarter 2004. Total non-farm jobs dropped 2.8 percent and the decrease marked the fifth straight quarter of declining employment opportunities.

The national and state economies are struggling to gain traction, resulting in little external momentum in the local area and Carbon remains hard pressed to create new jobs, pointed out the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

The county's unemployment rate has ticked up slightly during the last several months, but has increased to a level to warrant alarm. The latest data finalized by workforce services economists shows Carbon County with a 6.8 percent unemployment rate, exceeding Utah's 4.8 percent rate.

Non-farm jobs in the county suffered a blow during first quarter 2004. Local employment opportunities dropped by 2.8 percent compared to last year. A reversal of fortunes in service producing employment accounted for the majority of the 237 jobs lost, noted DWS economists

The local retail trade sector, in particular, was heavily hit with a decrease of 156 jobs.

The loss amounted to a nearly 12 percent decline from last year.

Financial activities also retreated, with a 16 percent drop in real estate, rental and leasing positions across the county.

In direct contrast to statistics showing growth in United States tourism industries, Carbon County experienced a decline in accommodation and food service jobs.

On the plus side, education and health service industries added jobs in Carbon County during the first quarter.

However, goods producing industries like mining and construction contracted. Goods producing industries lost 33 jobs and mining dropped by 28 positions.

Manufacturing represented the single industry to add jobs in Carbon County. But the 14 positions created by the sector failed to balance out the overall employment losses experienced by the local area.

Construction activity, as measured by permit authorizations, went in two directions during first quarter 2004. Residential activity plummeted, while non-residential activity soared in the county.

Based on total valuation, construction activity in the Carbon area expanded by 5.6 percent, indicated Michael Hanni, regional economist for the department of workforce services. However, the number was significantly affected by substantial slowdowns in residential construction as well as additions, alterations and repairs. Contrary to the general trend, permits for manufactured homes jumped by nearly 11 percent.

Non-residential construction was up significantly in first quarter. Three manufacturing/industrial buildings accounted for the majority of the new construction. However, construction data tend to be volatile and dramatic swings are not unusual, noted Hanni..

On a positive note, gross taxable sales grew by 14.6 percent in the first quarter. Sales in all areas of business investment were strong, with construction, manufacturing, transportation and electric-gas posting double digit gains.

Durable goods sales powered the wholesale trades to a nearly 38 percent increase compared to first quarter 2003. The service industries witnessed a significant bounce with an almost 18 percent increase. First quarter 2003 was extremely weak and the impressive 2004 numbers will likely not continue at the same pace.

As the national economy transits through a "soft patch," growth in Carbon County will likely be sluggish. While gross taxable sales appear to point toward recovery, jobs data underline the tenuous nature of growth in the county. Carbon will see slight growth in 2004 as job losses in the first quarter take a bite out of the purchasing power of consumers in the county, concluded the workforce services regional economist.

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