Despite the faltering national economy, Utah's economic growth rate has been solid if not spectacular so far in 2001, Zions Bank reported Thursday.
"Even as Utah's growth pace has slowed, it remains among the nation's strongest state economies," said Jeff Thredgold, economic consultant to Zions Bank, writing in the latest issue of InSight, the bank's quarterly assessment of the local and national economies.
Thredgold said he expects a "moderate uptick" in Utah's growth rate next year, primarily due to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. But with an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent so far this year, tight labor availability remains a big concern to various employment sectors, including nursing and education.
Zions currently expects net Utah employment to rise by 2.2 percent to 2.6 percent for 2001, followed by a 2.4 percent to 2.8 percent increase next year.
Those gains would be comparable to the 2.7 percent growth in 2000 but only half the 5.3 percent annual average for Utah's high-growth years of 1993 to 1997.
The "big unknown," for Utah and other Western states, Thredgold said, is the possibility of another surge in out-migration by Californians, a factor that fueled much of Utah's growth in the mid-'90s, when 1.3 million Californians went elsewhere looking for jobs and homes.
Thredgold believes the electricity shortage in California, coupled with the bursting of the dot-com bubble, raises the odds of another such diaspora.
"Moving companies already note a major shift in and around San Francisco (Silicon Valley), with more people now leaving than moving in. How many will soon arrive in Utah?"
That's a rhetorical question, of course, but what is known is that Utah's ski industry reported a record 3.35 million skier days this past winter, an 11 percent jump, as the industry benefited from early snow, $200 million in new facilities' investment over the past five years and publicity stemming from the upcoming Games.
The bad news is that next winter skiers may go elsewhere, fearing Olympic-size crowds before, during and after the Games. A major marketing campaign to assure vacationers that only a small portion of the state's winter recreational facilities will be dedicated to the Olympics is being mounted.
More good news: The latest survey by Demographic Daily ranked Utah third of the seven Mountain states, trailing Colorado and Arizona but ahead of Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and New Mexico.