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Sanpete economy down in 2020

The stats are in on how COVID has impacted Sanpete County’s economy.

Economists at the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) have finally released numbers that showed economic conditions in Sanpete County became pretty bad, but there is a silver lining and things are now on the mend.

DWS economist Lecia Langston said the county barely stepped back up to a “growth mode” in September 2020, after suffering nearly the entire year before.

The factors that determine the economic health of a county are job gains and losses, unemployment claims, construction permitting sales and gross taxable sales. At first glance, job numbers look better than they are, but Langston said misreporting of financial sector jobs is the cause of that, and in truth, only about 32 nonfarm jobs were added to the county. Typically, year-over nonfarm job growth has measured in the hundreds for Sanpete, so right off the bat, the impact of COVID rears its ugly head.

Only gaining 32 jobs compared to the hundreds typically added may seem bad, but compared to the other counties in Central Utah, Sanpete is in much better shape. For example, Millard County lost 136 jobs in the same time period, a 3.1 percent reduction in the workforce. Sevier lost 52 jobs, and Piute and Wayne lost 14 and 13 jobs, respectively.

The industries that lost the most jobs in Sanpete during 2020 were government, education and manufacturing.

“Fortunately, expansion in retail trade, construction, healthcare and professional services managed to offset the losses,” Langston said. “In addition, the county’s unemployment rate has dropped into what could be considered ‘full-employment’ territory while first-time claims for unemployment have slipped to 2019 levels. Sales continued to boom, and only construction permitting seems to have flouted the economic improvement party.”

When it comes to unemployment, Sanpete County had a 4 percent seasonally adjusted unemployment rate, which places it in between the statewide 3.6 percent rate and the nationwide 6.7 percent rate.

“First-time unemployment claims skyrocketed in the early days of the pandemic, but eventually dropped down to 2019 levels,” Langston said. “After spiking to 6 percent in April, the county’s jobless rate subsided to a relatively low 4 percent in December.”

Langston added that Sanpete County’s low dependence on the leisure and hospitality industry was a big factor in why it fared better than some other counties in Utah when it comes to unemployment.

Where Sanpete really took an economic downturn during 2020 was its losses in construction permitting.

“In the first 11 months of 2020, residential and nonresidential construction permitting both took a turn for the worse,” Langston said. “The number of new homes permitted decreased by over 60 percent when compared to the same time frame in 2019, while nonresidential permit values slipped by 89 percent.”

One silver lining in the pandemic impact on the local economy is that, in contrast to other indicators, gross taxable sales increased by 25 percent between the third quarters of 2019 and 2020.

“Sales proved particularly strong in the retail sector,” Langston said.