Utah's strong job creation has helped keep the state out of some of the economic doldrums facing the nation, according to a report released today.

The report from the Milken Institute ranks Provo-Orem first in job growth among the country's large metro areas. Salt Lake City was third, and Ogden-Clearfield was 18th. Among small metros, St. George was fourth.

While St. George slipped from a second-place ranking last year, Provo-Orem climbed from eighth, Salt Lake moved up from 18th and Ogden-Clearfield jumped from 42nd.

The Milken index is designed to measure areas that are most successful in job creation and retention, the quality of jobs being produced and overall economic performance. The report measured growth in jobs, wages and salaries, and technology output between 2002 and 2007 and incorporated data through March 2008 to check recent momentum. Employment growth is weighed the most heavily in the index, which also incorporates other measures, including some to reflect the concentration and diversity of technology industries.

"This report from the Milken Institute is very illustrative of what's happening in the state of Utah," said Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. "These rankings show that we're creating the right kind of jobs, we're creating high paying jobs, and we're creating jobs that will last in the industries of tomorrow."

The report notes that Provo-Orem has been outpacing the nation for job growth for several years. Much of the area's economic growth has been fueled by "a remarkable recovery" in high-tech information services and hardware companies after the tech bubble burst in 2001, the report said. Provo-Orem also has benefited from increased research and associated spin-off activity at Brigham Young University.

Salt Lake's job growth also has been bolstered by its high-tech sector, but energy operations "factored into the outcome, as well," the report said. And the city has become an important regional financial center.

The city has benefited from a strong health-care sector, University of Utah medical research, the state's commercialization activities, travel and tourism, export markets and business investment in information technology, although the local housing sector had slowed, the report said.

Ogden-Clearfield was cited for a growing construction industry, strong population growth, and job growth in health care, administrative and support industries, as well as professional, scientific and technical services. The new rail line between Salt Lake and Ogden is expected to help future economy

activity, and Hill Air Force Base helps the area's emerging aerospace industry, the report said.

Among smaller metro areas, St. George finished behind top-ranked Midland, Texas; Coeur d'Alene, Idaho; and Bend, Ore. The report said St. George had job and wage growth higher than the national average during the 2002-2007 period, "outpacing all the other small cities on the index."

Despite the strong showing in the Milken report, Utah's job growth has slowed in recent months. While an estimated 7,300 jobs have been created during the past year, the growth was 10,800 jobs during the previous year-over-year period. And the 0.6 percent growth rate this past year was the lowest 12-month rate since 2002-2003, according to the Zions Bank Small Business Index for Utah, released Tuesday.

Even so, Perry said Utah, unlike some states, is still experiencing positive job growth. "We certainly see enough opportunities in the businesses that we have helped recruit and the businesses that are growing in the state that I think we will stay in positive territory in terms of job growth."

The Milken report may be read at www.milkeninstitute.org.

E-mail: bwallace@desnews.com