If you are looking for employment in Utah, there is no better time to do so.

The state’s unemployment rate reached a record low 2.3% in December, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Utah ties South Carolina and Vermont for having the lowest seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in the country. North Dakota and Colorado aren’t far behind with unemployment rates of 2.4% and 2.5%, respectively.

The state unemployment rate dropped a tenth of a percent since November, when it was at 2.4%. That number had tied the previous recorded low that the state reached in 2007, the Utah Department of Workforce Services said.

The national unemployment rate for December was 3.5%, which is 0.4% lower than it was the previous year.

In addition to the record-low unemployment rate, Utah added a higher percentage of non-farming jobs to its workforce in 2018 than any other state in the U.S. — 3.1%, according to the labor bureau. That equates to 47,900 jobs added to the state workforce, putting the total number of jobs in Utah at more than 1.5 million.

The next highest states in terms of percentage of job growth were Idaho, 2.9%, Arizona, 2.8% and Texas, 2.7%.

“The job market is humming along at a feverish pace and is absorbing as much labor as possible,” said Mark Knold, a chief economist with the Utah workforce services department.

Knold said the majority of added jobs were in the private sector, which grew by 3.6% since December 2018.

“The heart and soul behind the Utah economy is the private sector,” Knold said in an audio breakdown of the report. “It’s the power behind the job growth.”

The largest private sector increase was in education and health services, which added 12,400 jobs in 2019. Construction added 9,700 jobs and professional and business services added 7,500 jobs.

By percentage, construction grew the largest at 9.5% growth while education and health services grew by 6% and leisure and hospitality services grew by 3.8%.

“Those numbers will put you right at the very top of the state economies here in the United States,” Knold said about the unemployment and job creation statistics.

The economist said low unemployment and high job growth rates make Utah “a very strong and positive environment for those who are seeking a job.”

The challenge moving forward, Knold said, will be for employers to find workers in a state with such a low rate of unemployment.

“It’s going to still be another difficult year for employers in terms of availability of labor and finding adequate labor, whether it’s skill sets or even just quantities of bodies,” he said. “It’s going to be a tight environment once again in 2020 for Utah employers.”

Utah County added 6,643 jobs to its economy between December 2018 and December 2019, according to the workforce services department, which is 2.5% growth.

The greatest increase percentages occurred in Wasatch and Rich counties, which grew by 10.2% and 9.7%, respectively.

During a keynote speech at an event hosted by the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 10, Gov. Gary Herbert talked about the state’s “phenomenal” job growth and how his goal entering office in 2009 was to “do everything we (the government) can to empower the private sector.”

When asked why the economy in Utah, and Utah County in particular, is doing so well, Herbert said it “starts with good people that have a good work ethic that are outside-the-box thinkers (who are) creative (and) innovative.”

Herbert added that funding education is essential for keeping Utah’s economy competitive. In his 2021 budget proposal, the governor recommended freezing college tuition rates and increasing K-12 public education funding by $292 million.

“We understand how significantly important it is … (for) our young people, our labor force, to have the skills that are necessary and that line up with the demands of the marketplace,” said Herbert.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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