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In Fast-Growing St. George, Signs Of A Slowdown

A city of white buildings is shown in the distance, sitting between red rock canyons and desert.
Kelsie Moore
St. George saw its job growth rate fall to 3% in 2019, which is roughly half of what it was the year before. However, it is still twice the national average.

The St. George Metropolitan Area has ranked among the fastest-growing areas in the country for decades. But now, there are signs of a slowdown.

That’s based on new findings from the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which Senior Economist Lecia Langston presented at the area’s annual economic summit in January.

The county’s job growth rate in 2019 was 3% — roughly half of what it was the year before, according to data collected by the state. The figure is calculated based on the number of non-farm jobs added year-to-year.

“However, our slow job growth is everybody else's really fast job growth,” Langston said. She added that the change is important but it’s not cause for immediate concern, noting the county is still adding jobs at a pace that doubles the national average. 

St. George Mayor Jon Pike said he doesn’t find the news troubling. 

“For me, the key is that there’s still job growth,” he said. “It’s well above what other areas are experiencing, and that’s on top of the fact that we have full employment.”

The city’s unemployment rate was 2.1% in November 2019 — well under the national unemployment rate of 3.5% during the same time period, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The slowdown has not affected all sectors equally in St. George.

For example, healthcare and social services have continued to grow whereas retail has flattened, Langston said, adding that construction is down substantially from its peak in 2016 and 2017.

But Vardell Curtis, CEO of the Washington County Board of Realtors, says that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“I think what we’re actually seeing is the market adjusting itself based on supply and demand,” he said. “It’s more a tapping of the brakes than it is a crash.”

He added that periodic slow-downs in the real estate market are normal and healthy, as they can give the area’s housing inventory a chance to catch up.

Curtis said that the area faces a shortage of single-family starter homes, which appeal to both new families and retirees who are looking to downsize.

St. George’s 2019 Moderate Income Housing Plan showed the majority of the city’s existing housing stock is not affordable for moderate-income households, which the report defines as an annual income of roughly $43,218.

David Fuchs is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George. Follow David on Twitter @davidmfuchs

David is a reporter and producer working on Sent Away, an investigative podcast series from KUER, The Salt Lake Tribune and APM Reports.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.