East Side job growth strengthens Summit County economy
Bullish economic times are continuing in Summit County.
The county economy experienced better-than-average job growth in 2015 and is on course to remain strong, according to numbers released to The Park Record by Jeff Jones, the county’s director of economic development.
The numbers show that there were more than 1,200 jobs added in the western part of the county, covering Park City and the Snyderville Basin, equaling 5.4-percent growth over 2014. The East Side, comprising areas such as Coalville, Kamas, Francis and Oakley, saw a 4.2-percent rise, totaling more than 150 jobs. Both numbers eclipsed the overall state job growth of 4.1 percent and the 2-percent increase seen nationally.
Additionally, the job growth has been sustained for a number of years. The East Side added nearly 700 jobs between 2010 and 2015 (a 22.3-percent increase), while the western part of the county saw more than 4,500 new jobs (23.4 percent). Both figures dwarf the statewide growth of 15.5 percent in that span.
According to the data, the average annual pay for the approximately 3,700 total jobs on the East Side was $49,900 in 2015, while that of the more than 24,000 jobs in western Summit County is slightly lower, at $46,109. Western Summit County’s median household income, however, was $98,517 compared to $61,357 for the East Side.
"Those average earnings are actually pretty strong," Jones said, noting that only a small portion of the East Side population actually works there and that most people travel to the western part of the county, the Salt Lake valley or Wasatch County for work.
Jones, whose office is tasked with spurring economic growth, said the data is encouraging. It shows that the economies of all areas of the county are healthy. Growth is more visible in Park City and the Snyderville Basin, which have larger, more diverse business communities, but cities such as Kamas and Coalville have also seen more businesses spring up.
"The East Side grew slightly slower, but not significantly less," Jones said. "That’s a good sign. When you look at numbers like that, the economy is actually relatively healthy county-wide. We’re growing at an admirable rate. Even though some people would perceive the East Side as growing significantly slower, it’s just not true. Just because there aren’t Walmarts popping up, it doesn’t mean that commerce isn’t taking place and that new industry isn’t forming."
He added that the emergence of large-scale projects such as the DeJoria Center concert venue in Kamas and High West’s new distillery in Wanship are further proof that the East Side is becoming a better market for big business.
"Those communities are obviously attractive enough to bring that type of investment to them," Jones said.
Jones said that his office will continue to work with individual towns to assist further economic growth.
"Our role is to be a partner, not a boss, so they’re defining who they want to be in each municipality," Jones said. "We’re trying to help them implement their vision. Some places want more emphasis on recruitment, others say product development is actually more important. So we’re trying to help them target those goals."
To help fuel more job creation, Jones’ office leads an entrepreneurship class for people wanting to start their own businesses, and it also tries to lure existing companies to Summit County. But equally important to bringing in new business is ensuring the ones that are already here succeed, too.
Jones meets weekly with many existing businesses in the area, gathering information on what the county can do to help them flourish, he said.
A lack of affordable housing in the county is one of the main stumbling blocks preventing even more economic growth, however, Jones said. Many people work in the county but don’t live here. Those people end up spending the majority of their incomes in other areas.
"If we did it smartly, with high-density housing that’s in close proximity to our employment hubs, that would benefit us in a lot of ways," he said. "And then you’d have people there on the nights and the weekends, people who were working here but not spending money here during the time they were away. You capture that buying power that helps your local retailers, particularly through the offseasons."
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Another ski season is in the books, and much to the relief of the restaurant industry, the outlook, like the weather, is looking sunny.