First the good news — new jobless claims in Weber and Davis counties have dropped dramatically since they peaked in early April.
At the same time, the head of the organization tasked with promoting economic development in Weber and Davis counties says interest among businesses in expanding existing operations in the two counties or relocating here seems to be holding steady.
“We’re pretty encouraged,” said Chris Roybal, president of the Northern Utah Economic Alliance, the body formed to promote business development in Weber and Davis counties.
Still, his take on things doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. Unemployment in Weber and Davis counties measured 10.7% and 8.9%, respectively, as of April, higher than the Great Recession peaks of 8.9% in Weber County and 7.1% Davis County, according to Utah Department of Workforce data.
And Chuck Leonhardt, head of the Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce, is getting varied signals on job availability here. Some firms will announce hiring sprees, but then others continue to struggle. New job opportunities, he said, seem “very sporadic.”
As concerns about COVID-19 linger, along with the restrictions meant to keep it from spreading, the data and observers are offering mixed signals on where the local economy is going.
Roybal, for one, maintains an optimistic outlook. Interest among entities looking into getting new office space is “flat.” But industrial, manufacturing and distribution operations “are still really active” in searching out expansion and relocation opportunities in Weber and Davis counties, he said.
He cited the relative strength of the underlying economy. Notwithstanding concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and the impact COVID-19 restrictions are having on economic activity, the fundamentals of the economy seem relatively strong, unlike during the Great Recession, when the housing industry took a tumble.
Similarly, new jobless claims, reflecting people seeking unemployment benefits for the first time, have dropped dramatically. In Weber County, they peaked at 2,506 on April 4 and fell to 361 as of May 30. In Davis County they dipped from 3,006 to 377 in the same period, while the statewide number dipped from a high of 33,076 as of April 4 to 4,996 last week.
“For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the number of new weekly claims fell just below the state’s previous record high of 5,300 claims in 2013,” Kevin Burt, director of the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ Unemployment Insurance Division, said in announcing the latest numbers. “The consistent decreases continue to be encouraging.”
Nonetheless, total unemployment claims as of last week reached 93,276 across the state, more than 10-times the average weekly figure for 2019, 8,856.
Given the tumult, Leonhardt is seeing a shift of some workers from sectors hit by the economic downturn to those where jobs are available. And things won’t get better overnight, he cautions. Rather, any improvement, he maintains, will likely be gradual.
Notably, COVID-19 restrictions have eased to the point that all business sectors may resume operations, presuming they follow guidelines crafted by health officials, Leonhardt said. And businesses are taking the continued guidelines seriously.
“We just don’t see businesses that aren’t taking responsibility for that,” he said.