Utah’s post-COVID economy is strong and getting stronger

FILE PHOTO - A purchase is made at a retail store. Photo by Christiann Koepke on Unsplash

Multiple metrics are revealing that Utah’s economy has emerged very strong from COVID-19 disruptions, and continues to gain momentum. However, its rapid growth is the only thing slowing it down from being even stronger.

Personal-finance site WalletHub recently released its list of 2021’s Best and Worst State Economies and Utah is #1. Utah was ranked with having the best change in Gross Domestic Product and having the lowest Unemployment Rate; was second in the country with Startup Activity and Change in Nonfarm Payrolls; and, ranked in the top 10 in Annual Median Household Income (3rd), Percent of Jobs in High-Tech Industries (6th), States that are Recovering the Quickest from COVID-19 (6th), and Exports per Capita (7th).

Seven other western states ranked in the top 10 overall, with Idaho ranked 5th.

The site grouped various metrics into three main sub-categories: Economic Activity, Economic Health, and Innovation Potential. Utah ranked 1st in Economic Activity, 2nd in Economic Health and 10th in Innovation Potential.

In terms of the state’s recovery from COVID-19 disruptions, Utah is ranked 6th while Idaho is ranked 10th. The site compared the share of population fully vaccinated to the Real GDP vs pre-COVID levels. Utah came in 1st for Share of Hospitals with Supply Shortages, 1st in Real GDP vs Pre-COVID Levels, 4th in Unemployment Rate vs Pre-COVID Levels and 6th in Share of Hospitals with Staff Shortages.

A state’s public health recovery is essential for its economic recovery. The biggest factors hurting the economy are restrictions on businesses and high unemployment, both of which are a direct result of necessary public health measures put in place to curb the pandemic,” said Jill Gonzalez, WalletHub analyst. “As COVID-19 cases and deaths decline in a state, the government can loosen restrictions and businesses can hire more as a result. Prioritizing vaccination will speed up the country’s public health recovery, which in turn will accelerate the economic recovery.”

The Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, has established a Roadmap to Recovery Coalition. They recently updated their Economic Dashboard for June and it reveals Utah’s deepening recovery and growing consumer confidence.

But President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance Derek Miller warns that Utah’s own economic growth is the one thing that is limiting even more expansion.

With unemployment this low there is a battle for talent and challenges associated with growth,” Miller said in a statement. “But challenges related to progress are always better than challenges associated with decline, and I could not be more pleased about the progress Utah is making.”

The June report highlighted Utah’s remarkably low unemployment rates, two-year job growth and an increase in air travel among Utahns.

“As air travel returns,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, “the derivative industries such as retail trade, restaurants and bars, lodging, and vehicle rentals will also ‘take flight.’ Coupled with falling unemployment numbers, Utah is in a position to place additional focus on an inclusive recovery, including investment in education, childcare, and small businesses.”

According to the report, March and April 2021 show a significant jump in SLC International airport passengers. While not yet matching pre-pandemic travel, April 2021 surpassed 1.5 million passengers compared to less than 200,000 in April 2020.

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