business biz

SALT LAKE CITY — New numbers suggest that the employment market in Utah is finding a sense of balance.

The unemployment rate in Utah was at 7.5 percent for the second straight month, according to the latest figures from the state Department of Workforce Services.

Data measured by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics through its monthly employer survey showed Utah's nonfarm wage and salaried job count for last month expanded by 1.3 percent compared to December 2009, with 1.2 million Utahns filling out employment rolls. Approximately 101,700 Utahns are considered unemployed, while the national jobless rate moved down 0.4 percent to 9.4 percent for December 2010.

Last December, the state's rate was 6.6 percent, a 0.9 percentage-point increase over the past 12 months.

While the number of Utahns who are out of work has increased over the past year, economists and local civic leaders predict 2011 will be a time of improvement for the local job market.

"We will have job growth here in 2011," said Mark Knold, senior economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. He said this year could yield 15,000 to 20,000 new jobs, which could help build momentum for the coming years after a rather challenging period in the state's recent history.

In order to achieve the goal, Knold said jobs would have to come across all sectors, with technology leading the way along with health care and life sciences, business and professional services, education, government, manufacturing and retail trade services.

The Utah economy continues showing year-over-year employment gains — including 15,300 jobs added in 2010, with all growth occurring in the private sector (nongovernment), he said.

Meanwhile, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said Tuesday during his State of the County address, "Projections for 2011 anticipate that employment will be up 0.8 percent statewide."

Those predictions express optimism not seen in Utah for about three years, when the economic downturn hit in earnest.

Analysts expect professional-level hiring to pick up in the early months of 2011. The Robert Half Professional Employment Report found that 88 percent of executives surveyed expressed confidence in their companies' growth prospects for the first quarter, up 3 percent from the previous quarter.

"We're seeing a lot of positions in demand here locally," said Ema Ostarcevic, division director for Robert Half International's Salt Lake City branch office. Among the top jobs RHI is recruiting for most heavily are finance and accounting positions, systems business analysts, software developers, data modelers and mobile application designers and developers.

She said average annual salary increases for those positions range from 3 percent to 6 percent.

In addition, growth and demand is up for qualified senior administrative and executive assistants, attorneys and paralegals, as well as information technology professionals, she said.

"(Hiring in) health care is continuing to be very strong in (the first quarter of 2011)," Ostarcevic added. Local companies are seeing opportunities in the months ahead, she noted.

"A year or two ago, it was 'the sky is falling' and now it's very optimistic," she said. "It's nice to see companies hiring again."