While the change in jobs remains the best indicator of a local area's economic health, gross taxable sales can certainly add to any economic analysis. While there seems to be very little job growth in central Utah, gross taxable sales data suggest these economies are digging themselves out of the recessionary trench.
First of all, let's address the 500 lb elephant in the room. . .or rather the chart's 215-percent year-over change for Millard County during the first quarter of 2008. Obviously, it's quite unusual for even small counties to see their sales more than triple. What happened? The vast majority of this one-time gain resulted from business expenditures in the utilities industry. While I don't have access to the detail of this data, it seems likely that increase can be traced back to the Intermountain Power Project.
Fast forward to third quarter 2011. Three of the five counties in this central Utah area generated year-to-year gains during the third quarter of 2011 suggesting these economies are in recovery.
Piute County generated the largest gain (30 percent). However, keep in mind that in small counties, relatively small numeric changes result in relatively large percent changes. On the other hand, Piute County has seen its sales expand for five consecutive quarters.
Sanpete County's sales tax performance has followed a typical boom-to-bust business cycle. Its worst losses occurred mid-2009. However, it has only returned to sales growth in the most recent two quarters. As job growth has finally returned to the county, so has an increase in overall sales. Between the third quarters of 2010 and 2011, sales expanded by a robust 9 percent.
With few quarterly exceptions, Wayne County's sales position has improved since early 2010. Nevertheless, the current 8-percent year-to-year does not reflect the current employment crisis in the county resulting from the shutdown of a major employer.
Millard County's third quarter 2011 decline of 13 percent appears more the result of comparison to very strong (and unusual) construction expenditures in the third quarter 2010 rather than the result of an economic downturn.
Sevier County displayed a relative minor 4-percent decline in sales for third quarter. However, Since mid-2010, the county has been more likely to experience sales gains than sales losses. Sales have bounced somewhat between loss and gain for about a year and a half--a much better situation than the eight quarters of consecutive sales declines starting in the second quarter of 2008. In other words, while not perfect, sales have shown improvement.
For detailed sales tax data, click here.