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Mining resurgence dominates county's employment picture

The coal mining industry has dominated Carbon County's economic history.

But during the 1990s, the local economic base started to diversify into trade, transportation, utilities, government and services. Nevertheless, coal continues to play a major role in Carbon County's economy.

A resurgence of mining activity dominated Carbon County's fourth quarter 2005 employment situation, indicated the latest labor news report released by the Utah Department of Workforce Service.

Overall, the number of jobs in the county was up 6.5 percent compared to fourth quarter 2004, representing an increase of 571 positions.

While the mining industry accounted for 210 of the local employment opportunities, other industries also got into the act.

Construction and manufacturing along with the trade, transportation and utilities sector all posted strong double-digit growth rates.

The services sector yielded to the growth of higher paying jobs in other industries and shed positions in Carbon County.

Neighboring Emery County's fourth quarter 2005 employment showing was also dominated by gains in the mining industry.

Compared with fourth quarter 2004, employment grew by 3.2 percent, adding a net of 118 jobs.

Trade, transportation and utilities, in addition to construction, provided positive employment gains. Emery County's public sector - mainly local government - saw the largest net loss of jobs in the quarter.

In addition to Carbon and Emery, the southeastern region encompasses Grand and San Juan counties.

Comparing 2005 to 1990, employment in the four southeastern counties grew by 4,010 positions, with the leisure and hospitality industry accounting for 1,000 jobs.

Of the top three industries adding jobs, leisure and hospitality ranked second behind government with 1,083 employment positions, noted the department of workforce services. Private educational and health services ranked third with 612 jobs.

Southeastern Utah's unique landscapes attract visitors from locations across the world and tourists demand a number of services from local governments, pointed out department of workforce services economist Michael Hanni.

While some policy makers have placed emphasis on tourism as the basis of southeastern Utah future economy, officials who live in the travel dominated communities worry about the consequences of relying too heavily on the industry.

The officials are concerned about the abundance of low-wage service jobs and the seasonality of employment.

Depending on the location, the officials also worry about the effect of so-called "second-homers" moving in and driving up housing costs, explained Hanni.

On the other hand, rural travel economies have advantages compared to non-travel counterparts.

Studies conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture's economic research service indicate that, on average, rural tourism economies have higher levels of educational attainment, primarily fueled by in-migration during the 1990s.

In the final analysis, the rise of tourism in southeastern Utah has created numerous jobs. But for local policy makers, leveraging the gains brought by tourism into broader economic diversification will be crucial in the future, concluded Hanni.

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