Construction industry surge helps southern Utah’s economy

Posted at 10:25 PM, Jul 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-07-16 00:25:32-04

ST. GEORGE – Construction crews in St. George aren’t just building houses, they’re rebuilding the area’s economy.

Numbers released by the Utah Department of Workforce Services show there were 2,243 jobs created in 2012. It’s the highest growth rate in the state, and close to four times the national average. Of those new jobs, 442 were in the construction industry.

“Washington County was hit as hard as any part of the state in the recession,” said DWS regional economist Jim Robson. “So now we see them coming out of that and kind of leading a little bit in new construction activity.”

The new numbers outline what cities and counties have seen gradually over the past few years: a major comeback in the construction industry. The reports shows a 49 percent increase in new construction permits for the first quarter of 2013 alone.

“In southern Utah we’re seeing quite positive growth in construction,” Robson said. “The nice thing that we’re seeing is a renewed residential construction activity and permitting.”

There’s also a lot of commercial growth. Utah based company Serve-Pro is in the middle of a project in St. George. Owner Kevin Tatom said it’s a construction project two years in the making, waiting for the real estate market to be just right.

“When it’s lulled and there’s not a whole lot going on, it makes it difficult to build because your appraisal is so low,” Tatom said. “So I think it may have affected us a little on the decision.”

Tatom said now things are good and they’re on track for expansion. Economists said construction growth translates into overall growth.

“New jobs not only in construction and the new activity that you see there, but it supports rest of the economy in southern Utah and provides relatively healthy job growth that they’re seeing currently,” Robson said.

The report shows Washington County’s unemployment rate was 5.6 percent in May, slightly higher than the statewide average of 4.6 percent. But economists said as those construction projects finish and new jobs become available, hopefully the unemployment numbers will drop too.