Moving at a snail's pace but as steady as a tortoise, population growth in south-central Utah is far from a ram-paging runaway as in some other areas of the state.

But officials like it that way.It's easier to plan for the future.

Proximity to the Wasatch Front gives Juab County the population growth lead in the Six-County Area, followed closely by Sanpete County. Sevier, Piute, Wayne and Millard counties trail well behind. Millard's growth rate is barely moving.

That information is contained in the most recent report of the Utah Department of Workforce Services. In contrast, the report notes a variety of economic experiences in the Central District were fairly remarkable during the fourth quarter of 1997, the latest date for which figures have been compiled. Unemployment rates were low and many urban areas outside of Utah would gladly accept such low unemployment, the report says.

About 720 new jobs were realized over a year, but nonfarm job growth rates varied widely. For instance, Wayne County's employment skyrocketed by 11 percent while Millard and Piute counties lost jobs, Juab employment remained almost constant and Sevier and Sanpete counties produced moderate job expansion of 4.6 and 6.2 percent, respectively.

On the down side, the report notes value of construction permits in the area dropped by 6.3 percent, reflecting $800,000 less. Construction of dwelling units declined by 8 percent and nonresidential authorization by almost 11 percent.

In the population picture, Juab recorded a 16.3 percent growth over a five-year period, while Sanpete County's increase was 15.9 percent. Sevier County recorded 9.8 percent, Piute County 9.7, Wayne County 9.4 and Millard County 4.7 percent.

The Six-County district had a population in 1996 estimated at 59,680. Most of the counties have grown a little since then, but the change in each wouldn't be significant. Sanpete is the largest of the south-central Utah counties population-wise, with an estimated population in the report of 19,884. The increase would bring the population total past 20,000. Sevier County was listed at 17,156; Millard, 12,019; Juab, 6,846; Wayne, 2,371; and Piute, 1,404.

The estimated populations of communities in each county, from the most populous to the least, were as follows:

- Sanpete County: Ephraim, 3,699; Manti, 2,596; Mt. Pleasant, 2,343; Gunnison, 2,044; Moroni, 1,583; Centerfield, 861; Spring City, 785; Fountain Green, 682; Mayfield, 474; Sterling, 273; Wales, 266. The estimated population in outlying areas was 2,968.

- Sevier County: Richfield, 6,018; Salina, 2,050; Monroe, 1,610; Aurora, 965; Redmond, 678; Elsinore, 642; Annabella, 513; Sigurd, 492; Glenwood, 459; Koo-shar-em, 277; Joseph, 217; unincorporated areas, 3,196.

- Millard County: Delta, 3,073; Fillmore, 1,988; Hinckley, 687; Oak City, 592; Holden, 442; Kanosh, 425; Scipio, 289; Meadow, 275; Leamington, 261; Lyndyl, 121; unincorporated, 3,866.

- Juab County: Nephi, 4,134; Mona, 742; Eureka, 599; Levan, 450; unincorporated, 847.

- Wayne County: Loa, 487; Bicknell, 329; Lyman, 217; Torrey, 134; balance of county, 1,204.

- Piute County: Circleville, 441; Marysvale, 387; Kingston, 157; Junction, 139; balance of county, 276.