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Utah continues to top U.S. for employment growth
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah's stellar rate of job creation, which should have slowed down by now, crept up again in July.

Utah created 56,800 jobs in the year that ended in July, for an employment growth rate of 4.7 percent, up from 4.5 percent for the year that ended in June, the Utah Department of Workforce Services reported.

Arizona is a distant second to Utah, with job growth of 3.2 percent. The national average? A paltry 1.3 percent, by comparison, down from 1.4 percent in June.

"Utah continues to have a really, really strong economy," Mark Knold, chief economist for Workforce Services, said Tuesday. "What impresses me is that our job growth is staying so high. Utah just doesn't seem vulnerable to the things that are affecting other parts of the country right now."

In much of the nation, a downturn in residential real estate markets is dragging down economic growth and job creation. But in Utah, an increase in commercial construction is "more than compensating for the drop in residential construction," Knold said.

In fact, construction industry employment in Utah is up nearly 14 percent, or about 13,700 workers, from last year.

The largest commercial project under way is the $1 billion City Creek Center, a huge development that includes a mix of retail, housing and office space in downtown Salt Lake City. The project, set for completion in 2011, is even creating jobs before much of the construction work begins. Crews in recent months have worked on the demolition of two shopping malls and other buildings to make way for the new development. Thousands of workers could have had a hand in the project by the time it is completed.

Knold noted that unlike some other regions, which are adding mainly low-wage jobs, Utah is adding a mix of low-paying and high-paying jobs in a variety of industries.

With worker shortages cropping up in a variety of industries, employers are being forced to raise wages and offer more benefits to keep and attract workers.

For employers such as Cesar Escobar, who operates the long-haul trucking company Me & Brothers Inc. in West Jordan, keeping up can be tough.

"Last year I could pay someone $8 an hour to clean the office," he said. "This year, $10 is not enough."

He said mechanics could be hired last year for around $11 an hour, while this year he's forced to pay $14 to $15 an hour.

Escobar, who has 25 employees, said he also has begun offering hiring and retention bonuses for drivers and is offering health insurance coverage to those who stay on the job at least six months.

He said he has had to make other concessions.

When one valued employee recently told him he was leaving, "I said, 'What can I do to keep you?' He said I could pay his college tuition. And I said, 'Yes.' That's how it goes around here right now."

David Little, president and CEO of Rotational Molding of Utah in Brigham City, said it is especially distressing for a small business owner to deal with worker shortages. He has raised wages across the board twice in the past year, first a 50 cent-per-hour increase, and then a $1-per-hour hike for all hourly employees. Little, whose company manufactures plastics products, also offers health insurance coverage and benefits such as a tuition-reimbursement program.

Little, who has about 35 employees, would like to hire a half-dozen more so he could expand his business. But there's none to be had. "We've been trying to find a truck driver for four weeks. You place ads everywhere you're supposed to and nothing works."

All of Utah's industries are adding jobs, according to the report. And although most are being created along the Wasatch Front, job growth is strong in most rural areas, as well.

Utah's job growth peaked at 5.4 percent in June 2006 and had been expected to gradually decline since then. Although it has slowed, the rate has unexpectedly remained right at around 4.5 percent since January.

Utah's unemployment rate was 2.7 percent in July, down even more from the super-low 2.9 percent in June 2006 and well below the national unemployment rate of 4.6 percent. Only about 36,000 Utahns were unemployed in July, compared with 38,300 in July 2006.

lesley@sltrib.com

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