Here’s what state and local officials have to say about the 2022 economic forecast for Southern Utah

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ST. GEORGE — What’s the economic forecast for Southern Utah in 2022? According to some state and local employment and business officials, it’s good as it can get under the circumstances.

Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, St. George News

Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said the only thing restraining growth would be a labor shortage.

“You’re going to have above average demand for business and commerce, but you’re probably going to have below average growth because of the 2% unemployment rate,” Knold said.

The shutdown resulting from the pandemic doesn’t appear to have caused lasting damage to the economy in Utah, especially in Washington and Iron counties. Unemployment in Washington County was at 4.7% in October 2020. That figure dropped to 2% in October 2021. The story was similar in Iron County, with unemployment falling from 4.1% in October 2020 to 2% in October 2021.

Before the pandemic, Utah was at full employment for at least two years, with a labor participation rate of 68.5%, which is the estimated demographic maximum for Utah. The labor participation rate is a measure that reflects everyone who is 16 and older and eligible to work, either holding a job or looking for one. At the height of the pandemic, the participation rate fell to 67% in Utah.

Knold said the current unemployment rate is a little misleading because many people who had jobs before the pandemic decided not to go back to work or stopped looking altogether during the pandemic. Another factor is fewer people holding second jobs.

“We find that over the long run, about 6% of the workers in Utah hold a second job,” Knold said. “That fell to 4.5% during the pandemic and has not climbed back to 6% yet.”

Typically, about 13,000 Utah residents hold second jobs. Right now, there are still about 5,000 people who haven’t returned to working a second job.

The bottom line is that the economy is poised for strong economic growth in Southern Utah, but that growth will be tempered by a shortage in the labor market. All this is great news for workers looking to make a little more money or switch from a job that is unsatisfactory, Knold said.

“People always desire to move up the skill set, quality of job wage scale,” he said. “This is probably the most conducive environment to do that.”

Mining the economy in Iron County

2021 is ending on a high note in Iron County. Danny Stewart, development director for Cedar City and Iron County, said all economic indicators are up from the previous year.

Danny Stewart, economic development director for Cedar City and Iron County, date and location not specified | Photo courtesy of Iron County Economic Development, St. George News

“We’ve been busy in every area: growth, construction and sales,” Stewart said. “Our biggest challenge is finding the workers to meet the demand.”

Construction in Iron County was already exploding prior to the pandemic. Despite the shutdown last year, that growth is continuing.

“By the end of August 2021, we were up 37% over 2020 for issuing residential building permits” Stewart said.

Part of the building frenzy can be attributed to new people migrating to Iron County. Additionally, Stewart said many people who grew up in the area are choosing to stay there which is a reversal of trends.

“We traditionally export most of our young, educated people,” Stewart said. “They graduate from high school or college and move to find opportunities elsewhere.”

2022 is expected to be a strong year economically for Iron County, restrained only by an anticipated shortage of people to cover all the jobs being created. Stewart says this is extremely good news for people seeking work.

“There are a lot of opportunities at every level of employment here,” Stewart said. “It’s definitely a job seekers market right now.”

Women in business

Women in Southern Utah were quick to pivot during the pandemic shutdown. Debbie Drake, director of the southern office for the Women’s Business Center of Utah, said women who own small businesses have really risen to the challenge during the pandemic.

“They stepped up, worked even harder, thought outside the box and worked together to make things happen,” Drake said.

Home-based businesses like bakeries, online educational programs and social media services spiked during the shutdown. These areas are predicted to continue to grow in 2022. Drake said she anticipates most businesses will use a virtual hybrid model to stay flexible during these uncertain times.

Women’s Business Center southern office Exploring Possibilities Conference, Cedar City, Utah, September 2021 | Photo courtesy of Maddi Melling Photography, St. George News

“The advantage to virtual business is that you can sell to anybody,” she said.

Women looking to start a new business can receive free help and advice from the southern office of the Women’s Business Center of Utah. Drake said her organization offers resources, counseling and free training for start ups.

“One of the things we offer is a statewide women-owned business directory,” she said. “It is going to be linked to city and county websites so people can look for women-owned businesses in their area.”

Drake said her office is also embarking on a photo tour of women-owned businesses. A photographer is taking photos in each of the 14 counties served by the southern office for the Women’s Business Center of Utah. The photos will be showcased in various marketing publications.

Drake is forecasting a positive year for women in business in Southern Utah. With low interest rates and a demand for goods and services, positive things are on the horizon for women looking to start a new business or increase demand for their existing services.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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