Washington County ranks 14th among the more than 3,000 counties across the U.S. in new investments this year, according to a new analysis from SmartAsset, a financial technology company based in New York.
The analysis tracks GDP growth, new businesses, new home construction, the amount of new federal government money coming into the area and other factors using data from the U.S. Census Bureau and government spending statistics, and combines them to develop an “incoming investment index.”
Washington County scored highly in every area, showing business growth of 13.7 percent over the past three years and total GDP growth of nearly $700 million. Per 1,000 homes, there were 36 new building permits pulled last year, and per capita the federal government spent $926 on private investments and new projects.
“People make investments every day, and not just on Wall Street,” Steve Sabato, SmartAsset spokesperson, said in an email. “Investment into a local community can come in the form of a person choosing to open a business or build a home in a given location. It can be when the federal government supports a local project with contracts or people of a town support the local economy by spending money.”
In the case of Washington County, the factors driving that investment are plain to see for anyone who has visited the area lately, with new homes and new businesses spurring a booming construction industry.
Southwestern Utah is home to some of the nation’s fastest population growth, with the St. George metro area ranking as the sixth-fastest growing in the U.S. in the latest U.S. Census estimates. Since 2010, the area has added an estimated 22,000 new bodies, to more than 160,000 as of the middle of last year.
Construction crews continue work on the I-15 overhaul near exit 4 Thursday, April 6, 2017. (Photo: Chris Caldwell / The Spectrum & Daily News)
The area is also seeing a tourism boom, with record numbers of visitors to Zion National Park and other nearby natural attractions drawing new construction of hotels, restaurants and service-based businesses.
The growth is helping to prop up a healthy job market, with the county showing 3,235 new jobs year-over-year through the first quarter of 2017, a 5.4 percent increase. The statewide average is 3.1 percent, and the national average 1.5 percent.
Construction was the fastest-growing industry, adding 799 new positions, a 14.4 percent increase over the previous year.
Lecia Langston, senior economist with the DWS, said the job growth rate has actually dropped slightly since last year, but had settled back into a more sustainable rate.
She said she wasn’t concerned about overbuilding or the type of “overheating” the job market saw during the mid-2000s housing bubble, noting that while the growth of construction jobs might slow over the next year there should be growth in sectors like health services, leisure services and hospitality.
“We have had very strong growth. Nothing to complain about over the last several years,” she said.
A tighter market means also better pay for area workers, Langston noted.
Wages still lag behind Utah’s statewide average, but Washington County’s average wages are starting to rise, and at a faster rate than in the rest of the state.
The average monthly wage statewide was at $3,762 through the first quarter of 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, up 6.6 percent since the first quarter of 2015.
In Washington County the wages were much lower, $2,881 in the first quarter of 2017, but they have jumped 10.3 percent since the beginning of 2015.
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