Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s economy is poised for growth if Congress avoids sending the national economy into a tailspin due to bureaucratic gridlock, local economists say.
Speaking before an audience of several hundred in the ballroom of the Grand America Hotel on Friday, a panel of local economic analysts offered insights on where the state economy is headed in 2014.
Though the overall forecast is positive, economists highlighted their shared concerns about policy paralysis in Washington, D.C.
“The greatest risk to the Utah economy right now is the constant bickering within the beltway about the nation’s fiscal condition,” said Natalie Gochnour, chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber and member of the Utah Economic Council. “The gridlock creates serious uncertainty for businesses throughout the country, preventing them from investing and hiring like they want to do. As the nation’s economy struggles, it ultimately impacts Utah.”
Despite the concerns, job growth, increasing incomes and the unemployment rate are all expected to improve this year as the Beehive State continues to outperform national economic conditions, the panel explained.
“The outlook for 2014 is positive, especially in Utah,” said Darin Mellott, a senior analyst from commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE and member of the Utah Economic Council. “We are still slightly below our potential, but it’s going to be a good year.”
Mellott said the national economy is finally starting to improve following a prolonged setback created by the Great Recession, and Utah should begin to see some residual benefit as the nationwide economic expansion progresses.
Utah typically grows more rapidly than the nation after a recession, and that pattern is continuing in the current recovery, according to the 2014 Utah Economic Outlook — a report released by the David Eccles School of Business and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget under the guidance of the Utah Economic Council.
Nationally, employment grew 1.6 percent in 2013, compared with 3.3 percent for Utah, the report stated. While employment increased last year, Utah’s unemployment rate also improved to 4.8 percent, lower than the rate in 2012.
Though housing stabilized, with building permits at 12,500 in 2013, homebuilding did not lead the economy as it does during a typical recovery, explained panelist Jim Wood, director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah.
Wood said improvement in the commercial real estate sector and export growth should help drive the state and national economies in 2014, along with increased growth in vehicle sales.
“Auto sales are projected to hit an all-time high in Utah — about 120,000 units,” he said.
Carmakers are becoming more aggressive in their marketing and pricing, prompting more people to upgrade their aging vehicles, Wood said.
On the employment front, Utah’s job growth is expected to increase 3.1 percent, equal to its long-term average, while the nation increases to 1.7 percent, the report stated. With job growth near the long-term average, the unemployment rate is forecast to decrease to 4.2 percent.
According to Carrie Mayne, director and chief economist of Workforce Research and Analysis for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, job growth in 2014 should be similar to that of 2013.
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