SALT LAKE CITY — During his 2012 State of the State address, Gov. Gary Herbert announced the launch of an initiative to bring 100,000 new jobs to Utah in 1,000 days.
It was a lofty goal, to be sure, but also something that would seem especially difficult to attain given the prevailing economy at the time.
Eighteen months later, Herbert expressed some optimism that the ultimate goal is within reach. Speaking at a high-tech carbon-fiber manufacturing facility Thursday, the governor announced that Utah has generated 63,600 new jobs at the midway point of the initiative.
“It’s a landmark day,” Herbert said. “We had a goal that some skeptics thought it was too ambitious, but the good news is that we are well on our way to (the goal), and it looks like that if we continue with this trajectory, we can exceed that goal.”
On average, the state as added 3,300 new jobs each month over the past 1 ½ years, and Herbert is upbeat that the trend can continue. That's despite recent findings from the state Department of Workforce Services that the labor market in Utah experienced the lowest rate of year-over-year growth thus far in 2013 in May.
The department reported last week that Utah’s nonfarm payroll employment for May 2013 grew by an estimated 2.6 percent — pushing the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to 4.6 percent. The national unemployment rate for the month climbed slightly to 7.6 percent.
Even though the initiative is ahead of schedule, there is still work to do, Herbert said, with approximately 63,400 Utahns listed as unemployed and actively seeking work.
Another goal of the program is to attract better-paying positions that will help Utah families maintain a reasonable standard of living, he said. While some of the new jobs have been high-paying, skilled positions, others have been medium- to low-wage jobs that would not sustain the typical Utah household.
Herbert said continuing to support education and training for Utah’s workforce will be key components in attracting companies that can provide high-wage jobs that will bolster the state economy. So far, the plan has worked, as family incomes have risen over the past 18 months, Herbert commented.
“Our household income is increasing in a dramatic way,” he said. “Our personal income has increased by 5.8 percent over this last year.”
Not only is the state creating jobs, but it's also boosting personal income growth, Herbert said.
“People are making more money,” he said. “Households have more spendable income, and we are making net gains in that regard.”
Sustaining job growth will be a challenge, Herbert admitted, especially considering the state’s already low unemployment rate. He said most economists consider a 4 percent jobless rate as “full employment,” which is what he hopes to eventually accomplish.
“At the halfway point, today’s job numbers support Utah’s compelling story of leading economic vitality and growth,” Herbert said. “Our sensible business climate, sound budgets and quality workforce have accelerated the private sector’s ability to expand. This is no celebration of the state’s efforts, but a celebration of Utah’s dynamic business ecosystem.”