The year 1988 will go down as the worst in more than two decades for Utah's construction industry, thanks to a sluggish economy and the continuing exodus of residents from the state, a new study reveals.

In a recent report, the University of Utah Bureau of Economic and Business Research said statistics show that building was off 35 percent in northern Utah. Statewide, construction was down 21 percent.The industry has been sliding throughout the 1980s, and experts predict 1989 won't be much better. The most recent year with less construction than 1988 was 1968, said BEBR Director Thayne Robson.

Robson attributes the slow year to overbuilding of multifamily dwellings in the early 1980s, slightly higher mortgage interest rates and out-migration.

Commercial construction was down because of weak demand for office and professional buildings, over-building and decreased expenditures for public buildings, he said.

Because of changing construction costs and the effects of inflation, Robson said the best measure of overall building activity in constant terms is the number of new dwelling units built in a given area in a given period of time.

Overall in Utah in 1988, 5,715 new single-family units were built. That compares to 6,530 in 1987 and an all-time high of 17,424 in 1977.

For northern Utah - Weber, Morgan, Box Elder and northern Davis counties - the construction of dwelling units declined from 1,826 in 1987 to 1,278 in 1989, a drop of 33 percent.

As for commercial building, a decline in the number of government buildings and overbuilding in rental commercial properties along the Wasatch Front contributed to a drop of 34 percent from 1987 to 1988.