In September 2012, Wayne County showed its first year-over job growth since December 2010. Most of the previous spate of employment contraction can be traced the closure of Aspen Health Group’s programs in the county. While employment expansion is always a good sign, keep in mind this point: The employment losses resulting from the shutdown of the county’s largest employer may have worked through the “accounting” system we use to track employment. Nevertheless, this contraction continues to affect the Wayne County economy even though it may not show up in the traditional economic indicators. Let’s review those indicators.
• Between September 2011 and September 2012, Wayne County added 23 net new jobs—certainly a first step toward economic restoration. This 2.3 percent is not particularly large, but marks the first gains in years.
• All industries have yet to share in the employment expansion. The largest number of new jobs appeared in the private education/health/social services industry. Mining and leisure/hospitality services also chipped in a noticeable number of new positions.
• Nevertheless, about half the county’s major industry's showed declining job totals. Although most losses remain minor (the largest was manufacturing—down 7 positions), together, they do drag down the labor market.
• Not surprisingly, Wayne County’s unemployment rate remains high. The county’s November 2012 rate stood at 11.4 percent—more than double the Utah rate. In this small county with limited employment opportunities, unemployment will likely take some time to fall significantly.
• New claims for unemployment insurance—always low in the summer and early fall months—do seem to have settled back into a typical seasonal pattern, unfettered by the layoffs.
• Wayne County construction permitting for the first ten months of 2012 shows a less than exciting picture. Home permits are down by 30 percent compared to the same time period in 2012 and total permit values have dropped 18 percent. Of course, most rural counties in Utah have yet to experience any improvement in construction activity.
• Despite its other economic problems, Wayne County has shown a relatively consistent pattern of growth in gross taxable sales over the past two years. Third quarter sales data are not yet available, but should continue the expanding trend.