Official says Summit County’s economic outlook remains strong
Growing challenges such as a lack of affordable housing, however, must be addressed
- Population: 40,233
- Projected annual population growth: 1.19 percent
- Total jobs: 28,786
- Projected employment growth: 4 percent
- Unemployment rate: 4.7 percent
- Three-year wage growth: 6.3 percent
- Average earnings: $48,000
- Adjusted average earnings: $41,100
- Gross regional product: $3 billion
- Median home price: $880,000
Bright skies are on the economic horizon for Summit County, but a few clouds continue to linger.
According to Jeff Jones, the county’s economic development director, Summit County continues to ride the wave of strong state and national economies. Wages are growing steadily, tourists are flooding the area with cash, and projections say about 1,000 jobs will be added countywide over the next year.
But blemishes mar the promising picture, Jones added, with a list of growing challenges, such as a lack of affordable housing (the median home price in February was $880,000), a ballooning cost of living, a slowing rate of new construction, and projected population growth that will be unable to fill all the jobs businesses are creating, somewhat tempering the economic success of the county.
“Workforce issues are probably the biggest challenge in the short-term,” Jones said, attributing the problem to a number of causes and noting that it’s even becoming difficult and costly to draw employees from the Wasatch Front because of the low unemployment rate there.
Despite those realities, however, “things are actually quite good,” Jones said. For instance, the unemployment rate continues to hover in the 4.7 percent range, while employment growth is expected to see a 4 percent bump over the next year.
Perhaps most encouragingly, the gross regional product grew to $3 billion in 2016, up from about $2.8 billion, as tourists opened their pocketbooks even wider.
“For a county with a population of roughly a little over 40,000, that is just unbelievable,” Jones said. “And the rate of growth in it is also quite strong.”
Tasked with finding ways to make the area’s economy even more vibrant, though, Jones isn’t satisfied. He has a number of projects in the works aimed at creating more prosperity throughout the county, and he’s eagerly observing as county and city officials try to tackle some of the area’s more pressing needs.
In addition to luring new businesses from outside the area and developing a county master economic plan, one major initiative Jones intends to focus on is a series of strategic-planning assessments of towns on the county’s East Side that have not flourished as much as places like Park City and the Snyderville Basin. The assessments will involve business leaders and residents in those communities and will be aimed at gaining an understanding of the current economic picture and identifying ways to stimulate growth.
Jones is hopeful the project will unearth ways to attract industries that will succeed in those areas and align the local workforces with the needs of those businesses. One way to accomplish the latter, he said, would be to increase the education level of people in those areas.
According to county data, the percentage of residents with college degrees in places like Coalville, Kamas and Oakley is low — which Jones said is because college attendees from those areas don’t typically return — but if officials can implement programs that help people earn associate degrees, for instance, the economic outlook in those communities would improve and have ripple effects throughout the county.
“That would help them become more marketable and help increase our workforce in the area,” Jones said, noting that more than one-third of residents in many East Side towns work outside of the county. “That could make a big difference.”
Ashley Battersby is introducing Coalville to yoga through her new studio, State of Mind.