A group of high-level business executives in Utah remain positive about their companies' financial health in the current quarter, although they have concerns about increasing health-insurance costs and finding qualified employees.

The results of the third-quarter Zions Bank Utah Quarterly Economic Forecast, compiled by research firm Dan Jones & Associates from a survey in October, show that respondents put their level of optimism at a mean score of 7.05. That's on a scale from one, meaning "very pessimistic," to 10, which was "very optimistic."

That 7.05 figure is down 0.82 points since the forecast was created in the second quarter of 2006, and down 0.50 points from the 2006 third quarter.

"With the exception of the fourth quarter of 2006, this continues a trend towards 'somewhat optimistic,' rather than 'very optimistic,'" the report said.

But, the report added, "Utah's economic outlook appears to be fairly strong."

"Even as executives appear less optimistic, four out of five panelists continue to rate their optimism on the positive side of the 10-point scale," Pat Jones, co-owner of Dan Jones & Associates, said in a statement.

What's more, nearly nine in 10 respondents believe their company's economic health will be about the same or better in the upcoming quarter and that the size of their work force will remain at current levels.

The forecast, released this week, tracks local marketplace trends and gauges the state's economic health from the perspective of high-level executives throughout the state. When the forecast was created in 2006, 1,169 business executives were asked to form a study panel and complete the quarterly surveys. The third-quarter sample size was 334.

Other results from the third-quarter survey show:

• The cost of employee health insurance has risen to the top of the respondents' list of concerns. In all previous surveys, that was the second-ranked concern.

• Executives are worried about finding qualified employees, keeping qualified employees, gasoline prices and the cost of salaries and wages.

• There was a lower level of capital spending in the fourth quarter than in the third quarter. That was a similar result a year ago. "Whether this is a seasonal consistency or due to fluctuations in Utah's economy remains to be seen during upcoming cycles of this study," the report said.


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