OGDEN -- A new report from the Wasatch Front Economic Development District shows that Weber County and particularly Ogden are below the regional average in education and employment.
The WFEDD's Draft Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy report shows that of the five counties within the Wasatch Front -- Weber, Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake and Tooele -- Weber County has the second-lowest percentage of adults older than 25 with a high school diploma, at 89.1 percent, in front of only Salt Lake County, which has 88.9 percent.
The report also shows that Weber County has the second-lowest percentage of adults older than 25 with a bachelor's degree, at 22.5 percent, again ahead of only Salt Lake County at 18.6 percent.
In Davis, Morgan and Tooele counties, at least 90 percent of the adult populations have high school diplomas, with Davis and Morgan both at 95 percent or higher.
Of the five counties, Davis leads the way in the percentage of adults who have a bachelor's degree, at 33.8 percent.
But the report shows an even larger graduation rate disparity in Weber County's largest city.
According to the report, only 80.5 percent of Ogden's adult population has earned a high school diploma, a number that is 10 percentage points lower than the state average.
WFEDD Executive Director LaNiece Davenport said those numbers are disconcerting, because education plays a vital role in economic development.
"Highly skilled workers and a highly educated workforce garner high-wage jobs," the report states. "High-paying jobs provide family-sustaining wages that are important in establishing a strong economic base."
Tying into that rationale, the report shows that while the Wasatch Front's regional unemployment rate over the last 24 months averaged 6.65 percent, Weber County's unemployment rate is the highest among the five counties in the Wasatch Front at 7.88 percent, and the county's seat, Ogden, "is one of the most economically distressed locations within the (Wasatch Front) region."
Ogden is ahead of the national curve, though, as the national unemployment rate was 8.84 percent over the same time period.
Over the past two years, Morgan County has had the lowest unemployment rate, at 6.31 percent, followed by Davis County at 6.44 percent, Salt Lake County at 6.74 percent and Tooele County at 7.31 percent.
Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell said education is a huge priority for his administration and he's optimistic the city's numbers will go up. He says he had discussions with Ogden School District and officials there are aggressively addressing the issue.
"We're always interested in seeing those numbers go up," Caldwell said. "That's a huge focus for not only Ogden city and Weber County, but the state as well. Education and jobs are so strongly intertwined that it's an absolute must."
The spokeswoman for Ogden School District, Donna Corby, said she believes the district is doing better all the time and challenged the Standard-Examiner to re-address the issue of how the district is doing this summer when test scores are released.
"We are a no-excuses district," she said. "We want you to walk that stage on time with your classmates."
She said Ogden School District has a goal of leading the way in leaving no student behind.
"We have some very high goals for our students," she said, naming a number of benchmarks sought, such as raising test scores above the state average and having 90 percent of all graduates attend at least two years of post-graduate training.
And she said graduation rates have been rising and will continue to rise as the district works to accomplish its high goals.
Graduation rates and how they tie to employment have also been a recent concern of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.
In late 2012, Herbert announced a plan to ensure Utah is on pace to have 66 percent of its adult population earn a post-secondary degree or certification by the year 2020.
"As we compete in what is now a global economy, education will be the key and the catalyst that sets Utah apart," Herbert said. "An education system that aligns perfectly with the needs of the marketplace will do wonders in spurring economic growth and innovation."
The full 81-page report can be viewed at www.wfrc.org.
Standard-Examiner reporter JaNae Francis contributed to this article.