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If you've noticed a faster return to the so-called normal in the Beehive State, you're not wrong. While other states in the nation struggle to pick up the economic pieces after the pandemic's early destruction, Utah is recovering faster than expected. There are many different factors to thank for this swift recovery, including innovation from local businesses, the Governor's Office of Economic Development, legislators that have a business-positive approach, and grant programs from the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
These are just a few concrete ways Utah is the place to be for business—especially right now.
Utah unemployment trending down, new jobs up
In April 2020, the nationwide unemployment rate reached a high of more than 14%. As of early February 2021, the national unemployment rate sits at 6.3%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this is a marked improvement from pandemic highs, it is still significantly higher than the pre-pandemic unemployment rate of 3.5%.
In comparison, Utah's unemployment rate spiked to higher than 10% at the start of the pandemic, but today sits at 3.5%, just 1% higher than its pre-pandemic level—the fifth-lowest unemployment rate in the nation.
Utah's job market is seeing unprecedented success compared to the rest of the country, as well. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, Utah saw year-over job growth in December with 0.6% growth, according to the Roadmap to Recovery Coalition Dashboard maintained by the Salt Lake Chamber. Utah and Idaho were the only states in the nation in December to see job growth.
Utah economic outlook ranked No. 1
The 2021 Economic Report to the Governor also paints an optimistic view of Utah's future. It cites Rich States, Poor States, an economic competitiveness index, which ranks Utah as the number one state in the U.S. for economic outlook. A WalletHub study listed Utah as the fifth highest state for its quickly improving unemployment rate.
"These signs and others point to an excellent recovery for Utah in 2021 and beyond," the Economic Report states.
The Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) says this outlook is due in part to legislative support, grant programs, a strong economy going into the pandemic, the Stay Safe to Stay Open Pledge and the many resources businesses can find on coronavirus.utah.gov.
Small businesses pave the way to economic recovery
What is the secret behind Utah's swift economic recovery? The key lies in the health of Utah's small businesses.
"The health of the Utah economy is inseparable from the health of the state's small business community," reported the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. "Over half of all workers in Utah are employed by small businesses. Even very small businesses (<20 employees) account for a sizeable share of Utah's workforce. One out of every six workers in Utah is employed at a firm with fewer than 20 employees."
GOED says taxable sales reports show that Utahns are still spending money through the pandemic, which is critical to keeping small businesses open and thriving.
GOED support recovery with grant programs
To support small businesses, the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) has implemented initiatives using federal and state funds to offer critical financial relief.
COVID-19 Commercial Rental Assistance Program
Known as ComRent, this grant awarded $20 million in grants to Utah small businesses to help them cover the rent of their commercial properties while their revenue streams were impacted due to measures taken to prevent exposure to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 PPE Support Grant Program
This program provided grants to help businesses cover the cost of purchasing PPE for employees, redesigning workspaces to allow for social distancing and providing technology solutions that allowed employees to work from home.
The COVID-19 Impacted Businesses Grant Program
This grant, known as the "Shop in Utah" grant, has been awarded to businesses that offer a discount or other offer with a value of 50% of the grant amount to its customers.
At least 75% of the grant funds for this program were set aside for businesses with 250 or fewer full-time employees. Through this grant, more than $64 million was delivered to Utah small businesses to help them remain open.
Small Business Quarantined Employee Grant
This grant takes allocated funds from the federal CARES Act to help reimburse small businesses with fewer than 50 employees maintain salaries for those employees who had to quarantine or isolate due to the virus.
Utah COVID-19 Oil, Gas and Mining Grant
This $5 million grant helps sustain Utah's energy businesses who are operating a net loss due to pandemic issues. Companies must qualify by showing significant expenses or a net loss because of the effects of COVID-19.
These are just a few of the grants offered by the state. For more information, visit the GOED website.
Keep the economy recovering strong
It's as important now as it ever has been to keep our foot on the gas and continue supporting small businesses. Shop local and help Utah continue on its path to full economic recovery.
"When we support Utah small businesses, we support Utah entrepreneurs, their workers and all of their families," explained inutah.org. "Nearly 70% of a dollar spent in a Utah small business stays in Utah."
Utahns can boost the economy now and for years after the pandemic ends if a shop local mindset is kept.