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Evacuees having little impact on jobs

The initial economic impact of an infusion of hundreds of new people, displaced Gulf Coast residents expected to remain in Utah, is likely to be small, local economists say.

Mark Knold, senior economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said that if half of the nearly 600 Katrina evacuees were to remain in Utah, the economic impact would be "very little to nothing, virtually imperceptible on the overall board."

"We get a lot of in-migration every year," Knold said. "That's just a part of our economic flow, our economic situation. That's not to discount them (the evacuees) as individuals, not by any means. But as a group, the economic impact would be about as minimal as can be."

During the past 12 months, Utah's economy has added about 38,000 new jobs, according to the department. So even if 300 evacuees decided to find work and put down roots in Utah, their numbers make up less than 1 percent of the total new jobs created in the past year.

"We're creating about 3,000 jobs per month (net increase)," said Jeff Thredgold, president of Thredgold Economic Associates and economic consultant to Zions Bank. "If 250 stay, and that includes kids, we may be talking about 100 jobs or less. That's a drop in the bucket. To them it's not a drop in the bucket. To them it's a new opportunity. But at the macro level, the effect is pretty nil."

Even if hundreds of people begin looking for work at the same time, Knold and Thredgold agree that the Utah economy can absorb the infusion.

"There are jobs available," Thredgold said. "We're fortunate to have a strong economy. We've added 38,000 jobs in the 12-month period. We're growing at a rate of 3.5 percent. The environment is such that there are jobs there for them."

Perhaps immediately, if it is true that many evacuees are looking for blue-collar or service-type work.

"If you have skilled workers in that group, they might have a harder time finding a job than those with fewer skills," Knold said. "An electrical engineer might take a few more weeks to find work than a construction worker, for example.

"The lower-paying jobs have so much more turnover," Knold said. "The jobs that people hold, where they're more skilled and more educated, you hang on to those jobs more. So there's less turnover, and the job openings and opportunities aren't as high."