Thayne Robson's economic crystal ball says better days are ahead for Utahns.

"I think it will be a mild and short-lived recession for the U.S. economy," said Robson, director of the University of Utah's Bureau of Economic and Business Research. "In my view, the worst is behind us."In an address Thursday to the Salt Lake Kiwanis Club, Robson said the West will weather the current recession better than the rest of the country. Recent economic trends will slow, but Utah will not experience "negative growth."

Though the new year is only a few days old, Robson said his analysis shows that housing starts in Utah will increase by 26 percent over 1990.

Meanwhile, non-residential building starts such as the new Jazz arena, will be fewer in number. "We won't have a non-residential boom in 1991 but the residential will be stronger," he said.

Robson attributes the increase in residential building will be due, in part, to lower interest rates and the availability of building loans in Utah.

On the job front, Robson anticipates that the state's unemployment rate will increase about 1 percent to 5.5 percent by the end of 1991. Yet, the rate will remain 1 percent to 1.5 percent below national jobless figures.

Other economic indicators, personal income and employment growth, should experience gains this year, he said.

"It will be a reasonably good year for the Utah economy."

Admittedly, Robson's economic forecast is built on the assumption that war will not break out in the Middle East.

"In the longer term, we think Utah will show continued vitality," Robson said.

War would not necessarily be a bad thing for Utah's economy. About 6 percent of the state's workers are employed in the military industry, which provides 18 percent of the state's total income.

But for now, the "peace dividend" that most Utahns feared would cost hundreds of high-paying defense jobs hasn't devastated those industries.

The cuts likely will come because of military restructuring, but the state should be able absorb them because of its aggressive economic development efforts.

"You can accommodate a 3,000 to 6,000 decline if you've got 30,000 in job growth," Robson said.