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Economic analysts evaluate statewide sales tax, employment expansion data

In 2005, Utah experienced the state's largest single year sales tax revenue increase posted statewide in more than a decade.

In addition, wages increased while tourism and business posted gains.

The factors are indicators of a strong economy, pointed out the Utah Department of Workforce Services latest Trendlines report.

The numbers are predicted to continue to rise during 2006, but at a slower rate.

The state's taxable sales increased by 11.1 percent to $3.9 billion in 2005, representing the largest single-year growth since 1993, noted the latest report released by the office of legislative research and general counsel report.

And although Utah's latest job numbers show signs of moderation, the analysts indicate that there is no cause for alarm.

The data compiled by the department workforce services confirmed slightly declining joblessness and expanding employment statewide.

Utah's unemployment rate registered at 3.8 percent in February, compared to 3.9 percent in January.

Approximately 49,700 Utahns were unemployed last month, compared to 55,300 in February 2005.

In addition, the state witnessed a 4.4 percent job growth rate in February, compared to 4.5 percent for January.

In-migration, children of baby boomers and higher spending habits are increasing sales tax revenues in many Utah cities, explained the department of workforce services.

The factors affect the significant percentage change in forecast sales tax reports. Projections for 2007 indicate that 24 Utah cities will have increased local sales tax distributions next year, according to the latest report released by the Utah State Tax Commission.

Two-thirds of Utah's tax reform initiative have been completed, pointed out the workforce services department.

Despite a push for a veto from Senate Republican leaders, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. signed HB-109 and officially reduced the state's portion of the sales tax on food by 2 percentage points.

The cut will become effective Jan. 1, 2007 and analysts estimate that the reform legislation will save Utahns $70 million at the grocery store, noted the department of workforce services.

Washington County is the fastest growing region in the state. With a growth rate of 8 percent for the 12 months ending June 30, 2005, Washington ranks as the nation's fifth fastest growing county, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Land speculators, a wave of retiring baby boomers and second home buyers are fueling the biggest real estate rush in the county's history.

A biotech roundtable at Utah State University examined the future of the industry and included a session on what college students need to snag a biotech employment opportunity, pointed out the department of workforce services.

State officials hope the biotech industry will grow through the Utah Science, Technology and Research Initiative, which will provide $65 million this year to help bring in research teams expected to spin off new companies.

Alumni panel members representing the biotech industry on the roundtable advised local students to take a broad range of course in chemistry, physics, math, computer science and related fields.

Brigham Young University, Utah State University and the University of Utah all have at least one graduate program ranked among the nation's finest, according to U.S. News and World Report.

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