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As Utah’s star rises after 2 recessions, lessons linger

Diverse economy has made Utah resilient, downturns have left it forever chastened.

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The pair plunged into the business of food because they believed the market for pub fare and drink four years ago was underserved. Many national and regional chains had avoided Utah because of its restrictive liquor laws.

"That created an opportunity for us. We already live in Utah. We are Utahns, and we understand the licensing requirements and the marketplace a little bit better," Ryan said. Today, the company employs 200 people, including 25 full-time staffers.

At a glance

How the Bureau of Labor Statistics describes the 11 industries that make up Utah’s economy

Mining » Companies that extract crude oil and gas, and solids such as coal, stone and ores; provide support services.

Construction » Land developers, builders, engineering firms involved in construction and special trade contractors.

Manufacturing » This broad category includes food companies, printing firms, chemical manufacturers, computer chip makers, machinery manufacturers, clothing and textile companies, wood products firms and numerous other businesses.

Trade, Transportation and Utilities » Wholesalers and retailers, transportation and warehousing businesses, and utility companies.

Information » Businesses that produce and distribute information and cultural “products,” such as newspapers and broadcast companies. Others provide the means to transmit or distribute information and cultural products, as well as data. A third group includes data processors.

Financial activities » Two sectors — finance and insurance firms, and real estate, rental and leasing businesses.

Professional and business services » Three sectors — professional, scientific and technical services companies; venture capital firms, hedge funds and other businesses that exist to exert influence over other companies; and businesses that provide administrative support or waste management or remediation services.

Education and health services » Schools, higher education, hospitals, physicians, nurses and other health care service providers.

Leisure and hospitality » Two sectors —the arts, entertainment and recreation sector; lodging and food services companies.

Other services » This nebulous industry captures everything that doesn’t fall under the umbrella of the others, including repair and maintenance companies, personal and laundry services, civic and professional groups, religious groups and similar organizations.

Government » Federal, state and local government.

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On another front, the professional and business services sector increased its share of total employment as the number of firms providing scientific and technical expertise continued to grow amid the state’s march to becoming more of an information-based economy.

However, temporary staffing employment is also inside the sector. Although the number of temporary employees today is largely unchanged from 2000, there has been a surge since 2009, when the recession ended. Employment in that area is up 76 percent. Mayne said employers typically bring on temporary workers in the early stages of an economic recovery. When it’s clear the recovery is real, employers then shift to hiring full-time workers.

Employment numbers were "very steady until the economic downturn, but now we are seeing definite growth," said Barbara Fryar, area manager for staffing company Manpower Inc. "Right now, I know that Salt Lake City has one of the best outlooks for jobs in 2013, and we found that out through our employment outlook survey, which we do quarterly."

Twenty-two percent of the companies Manpower surveyed said they plan to increase their staffs during the April-through-June quarter. Just 4 percent said they would decrease their payrolls.

Gochnour frequently speaks publicly about the diversity and power of Utah’s economy. Still, the downturn has left its mark. Almost four years after the Great Recession ended, large numbers of Utahns remain unemployed and face an uncertain future, she said.

"I do believe that this [recession] has caused a reset of sorts. For example, about 70,000 Utahns are unemployed right now. I’m absolutely certain that many of those have to be retrained, so the reset is toward higher job skills, and education has become more important," Gochnour said.

One lesson of the past six years is that Utahns have learned to live within their means. Savings are up, borrowing is tempered, debts are down — shifts that will have an impact on the economy in coming years. For example, townhomes and condominiums are becoming more popular, and some builders are constructing smaller homes.

"We overextended ourselves, both at a household and at a business level" leading into the Great Recession, Gochnour said. "There’s a lot of caution out there."

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Twitter: @sltribpaul

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