When the Smith brothers moved their wives and children to Utah 10 years ago, they thought they had found the mecca of financial security.
But today, they are gone part of a large demographic pattern of emigration from the state.The Smiths were among the 176,027 people who moved into the state between 1969 and 1983. The people came because Utah's copper, iron, oil, natural gas and coal were in abundant demand. Work was plentiful, and the pay was great. An average of 12,500 people moved to Utah each year during those boom years.
Rocky, Clay and Kevin Smith moved their families to Huntington and took jobs in two of the coal mines that pocked Emery County. They were soon joined by a brother-in-law, Rick Sorenson. The men bought homes, expanded their families and put down what they thought were roots.
Then the coal market hit a slump in the mid-1980s. So did the copper market, steel market and oil market. One by one, the four men were laid off from the Des-Bee-Dove and Wilberg mines. Other miners were laid off from coal and mineral mines through the state; workers were sent away from Kennecott; Geneva handed out pink slips, and the oil industry decided the sharp drop in oil prices didn't make Utah's oil fields profitable anymore. Natural gas producers reached the same conclusion.
The four men lost their jobs in 1985 and 1986. Rocky tried to work part time as an on-call repairman for Utah Power & Light, but the scant work couldn't feed his six children and pay for the family's home. He looked desperately for full-time work for two years.
Sorenson worked as a part-time security guard at Deer Creek mine after he was laid off from Wilberg. But he, too, couldn't keep his family of six afloat on part-time work. He fell back on his training as a registered nurse and took part-time work as an on-call nurse for the Emery Medical Center in Castle Dale. His wife taught piano lessons. It still wasn't enough.
When Kevin and Clay were laid off, they tried for six months to find other work. Any other work. But no one was hiring.
During those months, one of Clay's children had recurring medical problems. Desperate for medical coverage, Clay moved his wife and five children to another state where he had a job lined up.
Kevin moved his family of four to Canada where another coal mine was hiring. Rocky and Rick hung on. They both had homes they were trying to sell. But no one was looking to buy a home in Huntington in the middle of a coal slump.
Frantic for work, both men finally gave their homes back to the bank and moved to other states. Rocky went to Idaho. Rick went to Florida.
Unwittingly, the four men joined another caravan of thousands. This time, it was exiting the state.
That exodus jumped sharply last year. Nearly 14,000 people packed their bags and left the Beehive State during the last fiscal year the largest migration out of Utah since 1964 when Thiokol launched sweeping layoffs.
The surge toward the state lines started in 1984 when 1,757 people stopped calling Utah home. It has increased over the past three years.
But early figures for the current fiscal year suggest the worst is over, and the traffic out of the state is slowing. Mike Christensen, deputy director of the State Planning and Budget Office, says he's confident new figures will show fewer people are strapping their belongings to their car and heading for greener pastures.
That's because Utah's own pastures are greening again. When Utah's construction, mining and oil industries went into a downward spiral in the early 1980s, the state's rec-ord growth in population slowed, Christensen said. When the spiral became a nose dive four years ago taking the state's economy down with it people began leaving in search of work.
Christensen is the state's guru of migration patterns and economic statistics.
The flight from the state the third largest in the past 40 years startled a state accustomed to a hearty influx of new people each year. In some quarters, the flight sparked panic.
Utahns who find Utah's shortcomings hard to live with pointed to the migration as evidence that others, too, dislike living here.
Christensen said that's great ammunition for those wishing to wage that kind of war, but it simply isn't so.
"This outmigration is due to a drop in goods-producing jobs. It is simply a factor of the economy. It has nothing to do with taxes, this governor, the previous governor or the next governor," he said, wrenching cherished ammunition from a few gubernatorial candidates and the tax protesters as well as the Utah bashers.
He pointed to charts and graphs showing sharp drops in employment in the mining, gas and construction businesses shortly before the migration started. Those are the causes of the exodus, Christensen said.
Officials believe the exodus is slowing because mining and gas industries have stabilized, and "it's tough to think construction can get much worse than it is," Christensen said.
He's blase about the march out of the state. A 40-year history of Utah's migration patterns shows that Utahns have had drastic moves out of the state before, he said. More people moved away from Utah in 1963 and 1944 than moved away last year.
"It's happened before, it is happening now, it will happen again," he said.
But Christensen's charts show that this exodus is different than previous ones. Previous migrations were drastic but brief, the longest one beginning in 1951 lasted for four years.
This exodus has already gone on four years, and while it is expected to slow this year, it may continue for several more years.
That doesn't mean Utah's population is dropping. The state's birthrate is large enough to increase Utah's population by over 20,000 people a year during the exodus.
While Utah may be anxious about her loss of citizenry, other states have far more to worry about. Idaho, for example.
According to a survey of 165,000 interstate moves conducted by Allied Van Lines, the ratio of people leaving Idaho to those moving in was the fourth highest in the nation last year.
The Idaho exodus seems to be most concentrated in the southern part of the state.
"There isn't any energy down there, as far as I'm concerned," said Phil Schnee, Idaho manager of U-Haul. "We look at Nampa, Twin Falls and Pocatello as depressed areas."