While the effects of COVID-19 will be felt for years to come, Utah’s economic recovery has already begun. This isn’t surprising for the state that had the fastest job growth in the nation prior to being blindsided by a global pandemic.
The fundamentals that made Utah the strongest and most diverse economy, with the best economic outlook, are still in place. Utah has a skilled workforce, business friendly environment, access to markets as the crossroads of the west and an unparalleled quality of life. All these things are as true today as they were pre-COVID-19. And they are the fundamentals that are driving Utah’s economic comeback.
The strength of Utah’s economy, resilient small businesses and collaborative community leaders are reflected in the data. One leading measurement of recovery is unemployment and Utah’s unemployment rate is less than half the national average and currently stands as the lowest in the nation at 4.1%. Similarly, unemployment claims are decreasing. With claims peaking at the beginning of May, that number has now declined for 19 consecutive weeks.
Some key sectors of the economy are growing again, including construction, transportation and utilities. In fact, 4 out of 10 private sector industries experienced employment growth in August. This job growth is being led by business of all sizes, in a variety of industries, across the state.
This is good news, but it needs to get better. Although the economy is improving, we still have significant challenges to overcome. Even with an unemployment rate at 4.1%, we still have over 50,000 Utahns actively looking for a job and unable to find one. There are also likely more who have dropped out of the workforce and are no longer looking at all.
The year-over-year job rate shows the leisure and hospitality industry is still suffering a 16.8% contraction and the energy and mining sector declined by 11.5%. Understanding how different industries and individual businesses are being impacted by the pandemic can help guide solutions from the private-sector and government relief and target those who need help the most.
One thing every industry, business, employer, employee and customer has in common is the need to fight this pandemic together. Public health and economic health are inseparably connected, not competing alternatives. Both are required to sustain healthy and economically viable families, businesses and communities. The most important thing we can all do to keep the economic recovery moving forward is engaging in commerce safely. “Flatten the curve” is a call to action that needs renewed focus and vigilance.
Businesses can do their part by following the simple safety guidelines set forth by the Utah Department of Health. By following these guidelines, business owners show they are serious about protecting their customers, clients and employees. Customers, in turn, can show their respect for frontline workers by wearing masks in settings where social distancing isn’t possible.
Rarely in life or in business is the most effective solution also one of the easiest, but in the fight against the coronavirus and in support of economic recovery, we can all do our part to protect the health and well-being of our lives and livelihoods. And, right now the best way we can to do that is by taking steps necessary to protect our health and the welfare of those around us.
Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.