December 1, 2012

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Rocky Recovery

Naughty boys and girls in Utah may not find lumps of coal in their stockin...Read More

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Rocky Recovery

The Dichotomy of Utah’s Economic Outlook

Gaylen Webb

December 1, 2012

On the other hand, Carbon Economic Development Director DeLynn Fielding says he doesn’t know what the future holds, but right now, it doesn’t look too positive. “There are always rumors of layoffs. We just hope it isn’t any worse.”

Nonetheless, Fielding is upbeat about talk of an oil refinery being built in Green River and about spillover business stemming from the oil and gas boom in the Basin. For example, he says Carbon County may be able to leverage its rail and load-out facilities to support the Basin’s energy boom, since there is no rail service in Duchesne or Uintah counties.

Fielding is also upbeat about the success of a program called Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR), which 25 of the 29 counties in the state have adopted and are implementing. Carbon County has been running the BEAR program for more than six years in an effort to grow and diversify local businesses. He says the BEAR program is an effective and efficient way to bring resources together to help existing companies grow. In many cases, the businesses are not aware of the services and incentives available to them.

“It isn’t sexy. It isn’t headline news,” he says. “We work with a company and it hires one or two people. You won’t read about it in the paper, but for small businesses taking incremental steps, it is a big deal and it is helping make rural Utah a little stronger and a little better, one business at a time.”

BEAR may not be sexy, but it’s certainly bringing hope to an area of the state in need of some encouragement.

A Divided Region
Meanwhile, in the southwest corner of the state, Washington County stands alone with a firm foothold in broad-based job growth. “The rest of the counties in the southwest part of the state are just muddling along,” says Langston. Utah’s Dixie, hammered hard by the recession and bust in the housing market, has rebounded nicely. In fact, if job growth were any hotter there, Langston says the economy would be overheated.

Nonetheless, she says everybody is benefitting by the rebound, as nearly every industry, from construction to retail trade, has experienced job growth.

Further, Family Dollar plans to build a distribution center in Washington County, and there’s talk of a major new retail complex coming to the county as well. “Washington County has been able to diversify and is growing fast enough to create jobs, but the rest of the counties I cover have not seen the job growth,” she says. “I keep thinking the other counties are going to look better, but they don’t.”

One of those counties is Iron County. Manufacturing there has come back slightly, but the area continues to experience fluctuations between growth and decline. According to the most recent DWS data, nonfarm jobs in Iron County have only increased .6 percent year over year.

Beaver County suffered a dip in employment when construction of the wind farm there wrapped up. Nonfarm employment in Beaver County is down 2.1 percent. Meanwhile, Wayne County is probably in the worst shape of all the south central counties regarding job growth, according to Langston. Although the hemorrhaging of jobs there has tapered off since the closure of Aspen Health Group, which was Wayne County’s largest employer, from mid-2011 to 2012 the county was still down 3 percent in nonfarm jobs and unemployment is approximately 11 percent.

Nevertheless, all is not gloom and doom in Wayne County. Construction permitting activity is up 40 percent in the county, which is “a rarity outside the metro areas and oil/gas field counties,” says Langston. Overall construction activity should continue to buoy-up construction employment in the county.

Cautious Optimism
Out west in Tooele County, EnergySolutions cut 60 jobs at its cleanup facility in the fall. On the other hand, the Deseret Chemical Depot, one of the county’s largest employers, is taking longer to close than was originally planned, which is delaying the expected workforce layoffs there until 2015. URS, the contractor responsible for destroying the chemical weapons stockpile, announced in July that it would extend its closure timetable 14 months, which is good news for the remaining 1,062 employees at the Depot.

Still, nonfarm employment in Tooele County is down 1.2 percent year over year, while unemployment in the county is slightly greater than 8 percent.

In the north, Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties have experienced higher-than-average seasonal openings, lower average wages and the lowest job vacancy rate of any of the five regions statewide. Nonfarm employment growth in Cache County is only 1.5 percent year over year, while the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is just below 8 percent.

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