Utah economy gaining momentum

Utah economy gaining momentum

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SALT LAKE CITY — The state economy is humming along at near record job growth and total employment, and the upward trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

The Utah Department of Workforce Services reported Friday that June's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained unchanged from last month at 3.5 percent, though around 51,700 Utahns were considered unemployed and actively seeking work during the month. The national jobless rate fell 0.2 percent to register at 5.3 percent for the month.

The state's nonfarm payroll employment for June 2015 grew by an estimated 4.5 percent, adding 59,200 jobs to the economy compared with June of last year. Currently, the Beehive state's employment level registers at nearly 1.4 million workers.

Analysts said the news couldn't be much more upbeat as the local economy continues "on a great pattern and excellent momentum" for the summer season.

"June was an especially strong month for job growth in our state," said Department of Workforce Services chief economist Carrie Mayne, adding that the 56,900 private sector jobs created are "more than any other month since the Great Recession."

While the employment rate suggests a steady but flat economy, the truth is the economy is actually accelerating, Mayne said.

"There are many job opportunities for our state's workforce," she said.

A diverse economy has contributed greatly to the state's economic buoyancy, Mayne noted, along with the fact that the state has enjoyed relatively low gasoline prices in recent months.

"That has really propelled things like leisure and hospitality, (and) other industries have benefitted from those low prices," she explained. "You have consumers out there with a lot of disposable income."

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The monthly report noted that nine of the 10 private sector industries measured in the survey posted net employment increases in June compared with last year. The largest year-over-year private sector job increases were in leisure and hospitality, which added 13,200 new jobs. Professional and business services saw 12,300 new jobs, and the trade, transportation and utilities industry added 8,900 jobs.

The report also indicated that the fastest employment growth occurred in leisure and hospitality, which was up 10.1 percent; information, up 7.2 percent; and professional and business services, up 6.7 percent.

"Professional and business services includes professional, scientific and technical services which has been booming in our state for quite some time now," Mayne said. "This includes many of the tech companies at the south end of the valley."

The professional and technology jobs tend to be higher wage positions, she said, which "bodes well for Utah workers."

Meanwhile, the Utah Office of Tourism also reported significant growth in the number of people visiting the state, and they're leaving lots of money to fill state coffers, said Vicki Varela, tourism director.

In 2014, total traveler spending rose 4 percent from 2013 to $7.8 billion, which resulted in state and local tax revenues of $1.07 billion — up 5.5 percent over 2013. The Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah compiled the data.

The rise in tourism is expected to continue adding more jobs to fulfill the demand for workers in the burgeoning leisure and hospitality industry.

Mayne said the low unemployment rate speaks highly of the state's economic circumstance and should eventually result in a growth in the overall local labor force as more prospective workers target Utah's growing economy.

For now, Utahns should enjoy their relative good fortune — compared with other states — in an economy that is climbing at a strong rate, she said.

"If our job growth continues at this pace that would suggest that there are (more job) opportunities and unemployment could go even lower," Mayne said. "We certainly can't complain about a 3.5 percent rate. We know that there is a hot labor economy in our state."

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