As job growth soars, Utah consistently ranks in top 5 states for business

Utah welcome sign stock image | Photo by AndreyKrav/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Several agencies have ranked Utah in the top five states to do business in 2018, a ranking that is well-demonstrated by the state’s exceptionally high job growth.

In a study measuring all 50 states’ economic climate, CNBC ranked Utah as the No. 3 top state in which to do business, with high scores in such categories as infrastructure, quality of life and business-friendliness.

The state also currently occupies the No. 3 spot in Forbes’ “Best States for Business” list and is No. 3 in a report by USA Today ranking states for business-friendliness.

In fact, the list of lists that feature Utah in their top five states for business goes on.

Among the various rankings, one common factor stands out: Utah’s labor supply is booming, meaning employers have access to a bigger talent pool than most other states.

These rankings are backed by hard data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows Utah is No. 1 for total job growth in the U.S. at 3.3 percent in June, a ranking the state has consistently held in recent years.

Charts shows year-over percentage change for nonfarm jobs over a period of 10 years in Utah | Image courtesy of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, St. George News

The growth is also a boon to workers who have access to an ideal job-seekers market in which businesses compete to offer more competitive employment packages.

“Growth in various industries presents a multitude of career-advancing opportunities for the state’s job seekers,” said Carrie Mayne, chief economist at the Department of Workforce Services.

About 47,900 jobs were added in Utah in the last year for a total workforce of approximately 1,591,400 as of June.

Some of the biggest job gains have been in parts of Southern Utah, with Washington County showing exceptional year-over job growth of 6.5 percent, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Service’s most recent jobs report.

“The primary driver of Washington County’s strong job growth is its strong population growth,” said Lecia Langston, senior economist at the Department of Workforce Service’s St. George office. “Quality of life, natural beauties, recreational opportunities and the lack of a harsh winter climate all attract increased population.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the St. George Metropolitan Statistical Area showed the fastest population growth out of all metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. in 2017.

“The county’s fast-growing population is primarily the result of in-migration,” Langston said. “In-migration increases the demands for goods and services, companies step in to fill those demands and then these businesses demand additional labor, which creates job opportunities.”

The booming population has led to more jobs in construction as the building of commercial and residential properties picks up. Not surprisingly, Washington County’s largest growth in employment has been in construction, with over 1,000 jobs added from March 2017-March 2018.

Graphic charts job growth in Washington County | Image courtesy of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, St. George News | Click on image to enlarge

Not far behind construction is the transportation industry, which includes people hired to build new roads in areas of new development. Tourism is also driving job growth as more people discover the natural wonders of the region.

Low average wages is another specific reason companies are attracted to doing business in Washington County, according to Langston, who recently wrote an analysis of the county’s working population.

“Washington County wages register much lower than the U.S. and Utah averages,” Langston wrote. “In 2016, the average Washington County nonfarm wage measured 76 percent of the comparable Utah figure.”

So, what’s holding the state back from taking the No. 1 spot for business?

The CNBC study identified education as a key area that is lacking at all levels in Utah.

“The economy is great in the Beehive State, but it fumbles on education by underfunding its schools,” the study reads, which ranks Utah at 34th in the nation in its education category.

Utah had the lowest K-12 per-pupil spending of all states in 2016 at $6,953 per student compared to the national average of $11,762 per student, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In Washington County, efforts are underway to tackle this disparity and promote a better-educated workforce in Southern Utah.

In its 2017-18 budget, the Washington County School District implemented a minimum pay raise of 6.7 percent for existing teachers and bumped the base salary for teachers entering the district up to $40,000. A previous cap on earnings was also removed, allowing for more upward mobility and better retirement savings for teachers.

The county is hoping these steps and additional sign-on bonuses for new teachers will help address the teacher shortage.

Read more: Teachers see raises; school district adopts $330 million budget

The Department of Workforce Services is also working to prepare students and young adults in Washington County for the workforce.

Hildale resident Paula Barlow works as an intern after receiving assistance from the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ “Workforce Win” program, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Workforce Services

“We set up a work-based learning program with the Washington County School District that gets high school students into real-world working situations to help them better prepare for college and for employment,” said Bethany Hyatt, public information officer for the Department of Workforce Services.

“Students are matched with an employer based on their interests and strengths, and then the employer is able to interview each of the students they are matched with and select which they want to come and work for them,” she said, describing the “Workforce Win” program.

The program provides instruction on the job application process and helps participants find internships.

“I didn’t even know how to write a cover letter or a resume, and now I do,” said program participant Paula Barlow, a Hildale resident and recent high school graduate. “You learn so many things that school doesn’t teach you.”

Watch video below showcasing Barlow’s experience in the Workforce Win program.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • Redbud August 3, 2018 at 11:19 am

    Good article! Now can you do another article about why the wages in Southern Utah, and Utah in general are so …*, how do we compare on wages to the rest of the state, what is the outlook on wages? Will Southern Utah forever be stuck in a pit of low wages, and if so why, and what can we do about it, if anything?

    * Ed. ellipsis added

    • Borowiak Mark August 3, 2018 at 8:18 pm

      I offered a change in the last primary. Not enough people were interested.

  • Borowiak Mark August 3, 2018 at 11:51 am

    Glad to see they reported that in spite of Utah’s large families the population growth is largely “the result of in-migration”. Much of the area youth are leaving since the “average Washington County nonfarm wage measured 76 percent of the comparable Utah figure.” Good paying jobs are primarily in housing construction for the previously mentioned in-migration. And while the school district realized they had to raise the the teacher salaries in order to get teachers, no mention was made of increasing per student funding, thus continuing the large 30 plus class sizes. However as the great Obama said, elections have consequences, and this is what Washington County citizens voted for.

  • Mike P August 5, 2018 at 11:31 am

    Government incentives, tax breaks and LOW wages = more business moving to Utah. Duh. Can you say “China”?

  • commonsense August 5, 2018 at 4:28 pm

    wages are the highest they’ve been in eight years. Employment is at an all time high. Utah leads the nation because of our work ethic and responsible government. Cost of living and quality of life make Utah popular. All of this is possible because the Federal government has removed restrictions on business, lowered taxes and provided optimism, America is becoming great again.

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