Regional Report: The West, for the Most Part, is Growing

Reno is suddenly as hot as a firecracker.

9-Utah-Salt-Lake-CityUtah was the No. 1 job-creating state last year, growing its labor force at a 4.1% rate. The pace has ebbed this year, but the Beehive State is still expanding—enough to add 1.4 million jobs since last spring. Tech expansion drove GDP and IT sector growth 7.7% in 2015.

Other sectors flexed their muscles as well. Construction reached its highest level in eight years, leisure and hospitality thrived and financial services companies displayed “Help Wanted” signs; Goldman Sachs alone hired 2,600. Less happily, state GDP growth stagnates; Utah seems mired at its 19th-lowest national ranking.

Utah ranks No. 4 among states in number of startups seeded, says the U.S. Chamber Foundation. Organic growth is essential in a state site selectors often shy away from, citing lack of workplace diversity and the dominant role of the Mormon Church in civic life.

Utah’s focus on collaboration underpins economic growth. Government worked with CEOs to identify issues and improve education outcomes, including making teachers’ salaries more competitive.

Office-building construction, as well as residential construction, is booming in greater Salt Lake City, Utah’s capital and by far its largest metro region. Strong technology-company hiring fuels the metro area’s sustained growth.

Utah is hot because of the work force, says site selector Renzas. “Because the state has a very high birthrate, there are a lot of young people in the area who are very good with computer and tech skills. They’re very well educated and they don’t want to leave.”

IdahoIdaho enjoyed its best year economically in more than a decade in 2015, adding 28,000 jobs—as much as it gained the previous two years combined. Gains in manufacturing, retail and leisure/hospitality continue to spearhead expansion. Less happily, thousands of jobs in computer and electronics manufacturing disappeared during the last recession, likely for good.

Nonfarm payrolls will expand 2.3% this year and 2.2% over the next three, Idaho’s government economists predict. Business leaders are looking to schools to fuel further growth. The Idaho Business for Education group contends that 805 of state secondary school students are poorly prepared for high school. Many top students don’t stick around; half the state’s grads leave Idaho for work within four years of graduation.


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