Officials Find Hope for Utah's Bleak Economy

Officials Find Hope for Utah's Bleak Economy

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Government Specialist Richard Piatt reportingUtah's woeful budget picture may be on the verge of some improvement.

Forecasts call for an end to the bitter cycle of layoffs and negative growth. That's according to an Economic Report to the Governor presented today.

It won't take much to make 2003 look better -- 2002 was the worst year for Utah's economy since 1954. But there were a few bright spots.

The defense industry grew in 2002 while everything else in Utah was shrinking.

Defense spending topped $2.4 billion, mostly centered at Hill Air Force Base due to base closures elsewhere in the nation. And defense-related growth is not slowing down.

"I think with Homeland Security we'll see more widespread benefits. But so far I think Hill Air Force Base has been the main benefactor of that," says Neil Ashdown with the State Office of Planning and Budget.

Downward trends in cities like St. George were offset by continued growth, fueled by quality of life, in spite of the economy.

Overall, however, Utah is now linked with the national economy, so if it suffers, the state suffers.

The Governor's Economic Report shows 2002 was a tough year. Growth construction, high tech, tourism: down. Unemployment: up.

Utah's ongoing drought cost 2,600 jobs and $40 million in income. In all, the worst economy since 1954. Yet already this year, there are signs of hope as the national recession slows.

"We'll get through this. As I indicated, I have a guarded optimism. Maybe on the basis of knowing that 1955 was a very good year," Governor Leavitt says.

Still, major challenges are ahead.

Utah's birthrate set a record last year with 48,000 live births. That's 132 a day. That promises to sustain worries about education funding.

In an age of declining state revenues, demands are increasing. In 2002, 1-in-3 people in Utah went to a school as either a student or an employee.

These are facts that aren't going away, and which will demand attention for years to come.

Utah's growth rate is higher than the national average as well.

Between the high birth rate, and in-migration, the state's population is expected to grow by more than 50 percent by the year 2020.

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