By Matt Schroeder
Rich County ended 2014 with stable job expansion and encouraging signs for 2015. Wages, which have been slow to keep up with the rest of the recovering labor market, finally turned a corner. Taxable sales were up more than 30 percent with particular strength in retail markets suggesting that consumer confidence continues to build. Motor vehicle sales were particularly strong thanks in part to falling oil prices. Unemployment continues to fall and initial unemployment insurance claims are back to pre-recession levels. Employment growth was not particularly impressive, but it was consistent. Overall, the roots of recovery appear to be firmly set in the region and Rich County’s economic performance at the end of 2014 leaves continued-optimism for 2015 as the rational expectation.
- Rich County saw 3.2 percent year-over job growth in Q4 2014, adding 20 new positions after growing 3 percent in Q3. This appears to be a return to more consistent employment growth after a single new employer boosted year-over rates last year.
- Employment gains were relatively concentrated in the leisure/ hospitality sector in Q4 2014. The arts/entertainment/recreation industry added 18 jobs since Q4 2013, but the gains were largely offset by losses in the construction and professional/business services industries.
- Rich County unemployment fell slightly to 3 percent in March 2015, 0.6 percentage points down from last year and 0.4 percentage points below Utah’s rate of 3.4 percent.
- Average weekly claims have remained at or below 1 for the year, so far, through April 4th 2015.
- Rich County wages picked up to 5.2 percent year-over growth in Q4 2014 bringing the average monthly wage to $2,188. Accelerating wage growth in Rich County and the state as a whole, (which grew 4.3 percent) is a very positive step toward labor market recovery. Rich County has the second lowest average wage in the state – more than $1,500 per month lower than the state average. This is largely driven by the relative importance of the accommodations/food services industry in Rich County which has considerably lower average wages than other industries.
- Taxable sales in Q4 2014 were $5.9 million, an increase of 31.2 percent over last year. Low fuel prices have boosted demand for automobiles, pushing private motor vehicle sales to approximately $800 thousand - an increase of $200 thousand. Retail food\beverages sales and utilities were also large contributors with taxable sales of about $600 and $700 thousand respectively.
- Construction activity slowed in 2014 with residential permits down to 8 units and permitted nonresidential values down 73 percent since 2013.