Utah's economy maintained its strong growth in October.

The state's unemployment rate remained at extremely low levels and new employment grew at the fastest clip in the nation, according to statistics released by the Department of Workforce Services on Tuesday. However, rates are slowing slightly when compared to previous months, indicating that the economy may be cooling slightly.

The unemployment rate for the state was 2.8 percent, which is slightly higher than the 2.6 percent reported a year earlier. That represented approximately 37,700 Utahns who were unemployed.

The growth in employment was 4.3 percent when compared to October 2006, which is also down slightly. There was growth in every sector of the economy, although trade and transportation —replacing construction, which has led the growth for nearly three years — is now the leading growth sector.

Jeff Thredgold, economist for Zions Bank, said that the number actually represents good news for companies, especially small businesses, who are struggling to hire new employees. This will be particularly important during the upcoming holiday shopping season when retailers are looking for more help.

"It's been real tough for small employers to find employees," he said. "But with a little higher unemployment, that should become easier."

Slowing growth and slightly increased unemployment do not indicate that a recession is imminent, Thredgold said. Even with a struggling housing market and higher gasoline prices, the American economy is benefitting from increased exports.

Mark Knold, chief economist for DWS, said that the lower employment growth numbers are expected. The more an economy grows, the more mathematically difficult it is to maintain the rate of growth, he said.

"All growth periods rise to a high point and then wane," which started to happen about a year ago, Knold said in a news release. "The good news is the economy does seem to be doing its best to keep the want to a minimum — at least for now."

E-mail: jloftin@desnews.com