Monday, April 27, 2015

Grand County Economic Update

Tyson Smith, Regional Economist

The Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) relies on several data sources to help describe the state of the economy. The most accurate data available is the nonfarm payroll employment information that is collected through the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages. However, the resources required to gather data accurately come at the expense of timeliness, which results in a four to six month lag between the time these data are collected and when they are available to the public.

Other data are collected in a timelier manner, and these data (along with historical trends) provide a foundation to estimate current economic conditions. Economists at DWS rely heavily upon statistical models, surveys, and limited datasets to evaluate the economy in real-time. Some of those tools, like the county unemployment rates and initial weekly unemployment claims, are highlighted in this article.

The truth is that no single source of economic data exists that can appropriately profile the labor market in real-time. So, when evaluating regional economies it is important to understand the recent economic history of the area, while also using any up-to-date information available despite the limitations of present data.
  • Since the Great Recession, Grand County’s payroll employment growth has been the exception in the region. The 5.3 percent year-over job growth in fourth quarter 2014 was 2.2 percentage points above the state average, making Grand the fourth fastest growth the county in Utah. On average, the county added 249 jobs from the fourth quarter 2013. The leisure and hospitality industry added more jobs (104) than any other industry. 
  • Despite the momentum in the county’s labor market, declines in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate have slowed. After falling 1.2 percentage points from January 2014 to July 2014, the unemployment rate has bounced between 5.6 and 5.9 percent. The March rate sat at 5.8 percent, much higher than the Utah average. 
  • The recent steadiness of the county’s unemployment rate is reflected in the first quarter initial unemployment claims data. The average number of initial claims filed in first quarter 2015 was merely 1.5 fewer per week than the same period in 2014. 
  • Wage growth in the fourth quarter 2014 (up 1.5 percent) did not keep pace with employment growth. Wages in leisure and hospitality grew 6.6 percent, one of the largest year-over jumps in any industry. A positive sign given the substantial number of employees added to that industry from 2013 to 2014.
  • Fourth quarter 2014 taxable sales in Grand County rose by 6.4 percent from the same quarter in 2013. The accommodation and food services industry increased sales by more than any other industry in the county, improving $3.8 million from previous year. Most impressive is that year-over taxable sales in the county have increased for 19 consecutive quarters.