Dan Anderson couldn't talk long, because he had to get to a meeting.

Which doesn't sound like something to be glad about — except that, until about eight months ago, Anderson had been without a job for 2 1/2 years.

Anderson is one of thousands of Utahns getting back to work after the dry spell of the past few years. According to a report released this week by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the state added 20,900 new jobs last month, a 1.9 percent increase over June 2003. The unemployment rate for the month was 4.7 percent, essentially unchanged from May's 4.6 percent.

Anderson had all the qualifications to light up a resume: a graduate degree, extensive experience (local and international). He is even bilingual.

And yet, when his company downsized in early 2001, Anderson found himself looking for work. Eight months ago, he finally found it, as a project management consultant with Milestone Management Consultants in Layton.

"I should say that I had two opportunities for employment out of state, but opted not to take them," Anderson said. His family made do — Anderson had a good savings plan, and a budget — but it wasn't easy.

"I had teenagers, and it was very difficult," he said. "But they all pulled in, and grabbed hold, and helped in every way they could. It was actually good for us, though I wouldn't recommend it to anyone."

And with that, Anderson was off to the meeting at his boss's house. The company's offices aren't quite finished, so the staff has been working from home.

"I got the job after 2 1/2 years, but the funny thing is that I actually talked to him (the company's eventual founder) two years prior, and he said at that time that he had just moved to the state and wanted to start a company in project management consulting. He said my background was complementary to what he was looking for, but that it might take some time to get everything together. But that's partly why I hung on so long — I hoped this job would work out."

It did for Anderson and, according to the Workforce Services report, things are looking up for others as well.

Utah's knowledge industries are finally waking up, according to the report, which showed shrinkage in only one sector (information).

Professional and business services reported the biggest climb, adding 7,200 jobs since June 2003. The education and health sector added 3,500 jobs, while trade, transportation and utilities posted a 1.6 percent increase, or 3,400 jobs.

"It's a pretty big deal, I think, particularly because a good number of the new jobs are knowledge-based jobs," said Mark Knold, the department's senior economist. "We've obviously morphed toward a service-based economy over the last decade or so, but there are other occupations that have to be the foundation of your economy. That's what these jobs are, . . . so I'm glad that those kinds of jobs are a part of this expansion."

About 3,200 of the 7,200 professional and business services jobs were in employment services, Knold said. While temporary staffing positions aren't always high-paying, Knold said the growth in that sector does indicate that companies are becoming more willing to bring on more workers.

Robert Katz, Utah spokesman for employment services company Manpower Inc., said business for the first half of 2004 is up 30 percent over last year.

"We started to see an uptick toward the end of last year and have had steady increases this year," Katz said. "The last time we saw this kind of growth and job creation was probably the mid- to late 1990s.

"I think it's just pent-up demand. Our customers are finally seeing that they're going to have to bring on new people to meet their own demand and get going again."

Katz said Manpower customers are looking for manufacturing help again, in addition to regular requests for call center and customer support help.

"Staffing services is traditionally a place for bringing on staff, going temp to perm (temporary to permanent)," Katz said. "They were testing the waters to begin with. Now it looks like they're ready to give it a go."

The information sector lost 200 jobs in the year-over period, but Knold said there are encouraging signs even there.

"Even that (sector) has trended toward the stabilization point," he said. "I think we'll see some growth next year. A lot of it is in the communications industry, and they should be getting to a cycle where they have to reinvest in facilities and equipment and so on, which should lead to expansion."

Knold said he wasn't concerned about the national employment data, released two weeks ago. The U.S. Labor Department reported that the economy added 112,000 new payroll jobs in June, far short of analysts' projections of 250,000 new jobs. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 5.6 percent for a third straight month.

"I'm not surprised that there was a slowdown in the June national numbers," Knold said. "We had the energy price run-up, and that tends to set up a whole 'psychology' about the economy. But I'm still optimistic about this year. I think we'll continue to get growth, in measured progress. I think that next year will be a continuation on it, and that it will be even better."


E-mail: jnii@desnews.com