Sanpete sitting pretty, economic indicators show
When it comes to economic health, Sanpete County is sitting pretty.
Lecia Langston, economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) says job growth in Sanpete County in the past two years has been double the national average and has even exceeded the Utah state average.
“This marks almost two full years of job growth in the 3-4 percent range,” Langston says. “Unemployment is currently at the lowest level of the post-recession era, and first-time claims for unemployment insurance show no hint of layoff issues.”
Nonfarm job growth over the past 12 months (since winter of 2015-16) has been 4.1 percent for a total of 314 new jobs in the county.
Government (including Snow College) accounted for the bulk of new jobs, with 141, but manufacturing and construction each saw a strong boost at 66 and 36 jobs respectively.
In comparison to other Central Utah counties, Sanpete economic growth is especially evident, according to Langston’s figures.
Sanpete’s 314 new jobs dwarfed the second-place Central Utah job producer, Millard County. Millard showed 187 new nonfarm jobs in the same period.
There have been some exceptions, she notes. While most industries showed at least moderate gains, “retail trade and health care/social services showed slight losses.”
The national job growth is only 1.8 percent, and the state average is 3.8 percent, so why is Sanpete doing so well?
Consistently low unemployment is one big factor, according to Langston. During the last three months of 2016, the Sanpete County jobless rate held steady at 3.8 percent (compared to a 4.7 percent national unemployment rate).
“If unemployment slips much lower, the county will face a tight labor market,” she says.
Of the unemployment claims that were filed, construction accounted for the lion’s share, Langston says. She believes that’s due to the project-to-project nature of the industry.
Low wages have long been a bug-a-boo in Sanpete. So one of the brightest spots in recent numbers has been income. Between third-quarter 2015 and third-quarter 2016, average monthly income rose a healthy 4 percent, Langston says.
Another bright spot is new construction. Despite the construction industry generating the majority of unemployment claims, the sector’s health is reflected in the 120 percent growth in housing permits issued over the last year, up from 25 to 55.
The runner up among Central Utah counties in housing starts was Sevier County, which had a 67 percent increase from the previous year, barely half the Sanpete growth rate.
In retail sales in Central Utah, Wayne County showed the most growth. Gross taxable sales there were up 10.1 percent from the previous year. Sanpete was second with 0.5 percent sales growth
But the numbers are deceptive, Langston says. According to her, a decline in business investment and a statistical adjustment in prior-period numbers influenced Sanpete’s gross taxable sales figures.
“Retail sales actually experienced strong improvement,” Langston says. That’s encouraging, she says, when you consider that Central Utah counties like Piute and Millard were down, showing -6.7 percent and -1.4 percent change, respectively.
Langston says in general, Sanpete hung out “in the zone” with yet another year of healthy economic expansion.
“Construction continues to improve, and sales are maintaining or gaining,” Langston says. “In general, all the indicators are pointing toward a healthy economy.”