ST. GEORGE — Utah's Dixie hit another economic milestone this month when Inc. magazine hailed St. George as the nation's top "boomtown" for 2007.

In the magazine's May issue, St. George took the No. 1 spot on the overall list of 393 cities. The magazine also listed its choices for the Top 20 large, midsize and small boomtown cities, based on employment growth rates over the past six years. St. George tops the list of small cities — those with populations of less than 150,000.

Michael Shires, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, compiled the rankings for the magazine. Other Utah cities that ranked within the top 100 on the overall list include Provo/Orem, Logan, Ogden/Clearfield and Salt Lake City.

"The fact is, we have been growing jobs, strongly and aggressively," said Scott Hirschi, Washington County's director of economic development. "No question, we've had strong job growth over that entire period from 2001 to mid-2006."

Even as Washington County finds itself the darling of numerous growth charts, Hirschi and other economists point out the region's rapid growth rate can't continue.

"We are in somewhat of a slowdown now," said Hirschi.

Lecia Parks-Langston, regional economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, is also sounding a cautionary note in her quarterly newsletter.

"The Washington County economy has certainly been flying high during the past several years," Langston said in her column. "But as the old adage goes, 'What goes up must come down.'"

The most current estimates available for job growth peg year-over job expansion in Washington County at less than 6 percent, she said.

"That's down substantially from the 12 percent rate of growth just a year earlier," Langston wrote. "And it's bound to slip even lower as the construction industry continues to soften."

Both Hirschi and Langston pointed out that Washington County's job growth of approximately 6 percent for the past year is considerably more than the national average of less than 2 percent, and greater than the state's 4.5 percent.

But there are other indicators that show St. George may slip next year from its lofty spot in the rankings. Among the economic indicators losing traction in Washington County are residential construction, which dropped by 42 percent between 2005 and 2006, and gross taxable sales, which plummeted from a high of nearly 25 percent during the second quarter of 2005 to only 7 percent in the third quarter of 2006.

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Still, said Langston, a more moderate, slower rate of growth isn't a bad thing.

"A slowdown gives the economy and government services time to catch up with market and infrastructure needs," she said. "Employers are probably already finding the labor market more amenable to hiring, and home prices are coming down."


E-mail: nperkins@desnews.com