Winner: This is the fifth year in a row that the ALEC-Laffer State Economic Index listed Utah as the state with the brightest economic outlook. Also, earlier this week Ron Pollina, president of Chicago-based Pollina Corporate Real Estate Inc., said in a speech here that the Beehive state ranked second only to Virginia for its business friendly environment in the company's annual Top 10 Pro-Business States study for 2011. Utah received the highest possible grade for the fifth year in a row. With this much smoke, there has to be the fire of good job openings somewhere, which should give hope to the roughly 5.7 percent of Utah workers who are unemployed.
Loser: Water is a fickle resource in the desert. A year ago, much of Utah was wondering what to do with a heavy spring runoff that was being fueled by almost daily rain showers. This year, however, officials say they expect an extremely low runoff, and they worry about the Colorado River, which provides water for Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada and Arizona. Fortunately, last year's water provided enough of a cushion so that the mountain states won't feel much of a impact, but this could be the second-driest year of the past 12 along the river, and that means the affected states will need a lot of rain in the coming year to make up ground. Unfortunately, the dry weather also could fuel efforts by Nevada to gain permission to pump water from beneath the fragile valleys of Southern Utah, which could cause huge environmental impacts. Water may be fickle, but a growing population isn't fickle about drinking it.
Winner: New research out of France has found that baboon's are capable of identifying actual words on a screen and rejecting letter combinations that are mere nonsense. Jonathan Grainger, lead author of the research, said the primates got about 80 percent of the words right. Now if they could just get teenage humans to understand their parents' requests to do chores.
Winner: It turns out home prices are not going to fall so low that someone might pay you to take a house. After seven years of declines adding up to an average of 32 percent, prices may stabilize this year. At least, that's according to a Reuters poll of 24 economists who, surprisingly, did not offer 24 different opinions. Of course, they had to hedge that forecast. If a new round of foreclosures was to set in, the recovery could be threatened. The decline in real estate values fueled a recession and hindered a strong rebound. Despite the best (or worst) efforts of politicians, recovery can't really happen until those prices hit bottom and begin once again to rise.