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SALT LAKE CITY — Six months ago, Wyoming native Michael Brockbank was living in sunny Fort Myers, Fla., working in a friend's private business while searching for full-time work.
Despite 30 years' experience in the grocery industry, Brockbank received no offers following several interviews.
The difficulty in landing a job created some challenging times, he said.
Brockbank was being pulled back to the West through family ties and a longing for a more stable financial situation, along with better job prospects. After contacting some Salt Lake-area relatives, he was lured to Utah by the improved potential for finding a position in his chosen profession in one of the best economic environments in the country.
"When I got out here, I just submitted resumes for one week straight and got some calls back right away," Brockbank said.
One of those interviews resulted in an assistant management position at Harmons Grocery in Midvale. Friday was his first day at his new job.
"I’m very happy to be here," Brockbank said.
In addition to finding a job in his career field, he was also pleased finally to earn a decent wage.
"The cost of living here is really reasonable compared to other places," Brockbank said. "The cost of living, as far as your grocery products, gasoline and everyday expenses, are just as cheap here as anywhere else."
Stories like Brockbank’s are being lauded by Utah civic leaders in the wake of news showing the state's employment situation among the most promising in the U.S.
Utah's unemployment rate in January hit a five-year low, falling to 3.9 percent, according to the state Department of Workforce Services. Utah’s nonfarm payroll employment for January grew by an estimated 2.8 percent, adding 34,700 jobs to the economy, compared with January 2013.
Speaking at a news conference Friday at the state Capitol, Gov. Gary Herbert said the state economy has picked up speed and seems on track for continued growth in 2014.
"For the first time since the start of the Great Recession in Utah, our unemployment rate has fallen below 4 percent,” Herbert said. “This attests to the fact that our economy is strong and getting stronger."
The current Utah jobless rate is the lowest recorded in the Beehive State since November 2008, he added.
"This is especially encouraging because much of the decline in unemployment is due to Utahns getting jobs rather than dropping out and abandoning the search," Herbert said. "Since November 2008, when unemployment was 3.4 percent, Utah's labor force has grown by 6 percent or nearly 80,000 people."
The DWS report showed the state’s employment level at nearly 1.3 million full- and part-time workers, while approximately 56,600 Utahns were considered unemployed and actively seeking work.
On a broader scale, the national jobless rate remained virtually unchanged from December, dropping one-tenth to 6.6 percent.
Last year resulted in higher employment estimates for fourth quarter, giving rise to a 3.2 percent overall employment growth rate for the year, the DWS reported.
January job estimates showed strong growth in industries of previously soft economic performance. Among the growth industries were professional and business services, government and construction.
Nine of the 10 private sector industries posted net job increases in January compared with last year, while the natural resources and mining industry lost 800 jobs year over year.
The largest employment increases were in leisure and hospitality, which added 5,900 jobs, while trade, transportation and utilities added 5,400 jobs. The professional and business services industry added new 4,500 positions, while the government sector added 4,100 more jobs in January compared with a year ago.