The Wasatch Front, defined as Davis, Salt Lake, Utah, Weber and Box Elder counties in the north-central part of the state, is Utah’s population and economic center. Industry clusters identified by the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development include aerospace and defense, energy and natural resources, software development and information technology, manufacturing, outdoor recreation, finance, life sciences and, until recently, energy and resource development. Many of those industries are in Davis and Weber counties.
Weber County dubs itself the industrial center of northern Utah, thanks to its more than 300 industrial centers that employ thousands of workers in manufacturing jobs for aircraft equipment, ski equipment, food processing, pharmaceuticals and more. McKay-Dee Hospital Center and Weber State University are also major employers in the county.
In early 2015, Weber County’s economy began a continuing growth spurt across almost all industries, accompanied by broad-based wage growth and more taxable sales, low unemployment and unemployment insurance claims that have fallen back to pre-recession levels. Through June 2016, Weber County added 3,358 jobs and posted 3.3 percent year-over-year growth. Nine out of 11 major industry sectors expanded (government was the only sector to shrink significantly), and growth in manufacturing, and professional and business services, was especially healthy. The governor’s office credited the tremendous growth in online shopping for making trade, transportation and utilities the largest contributing sector.
In Davis County, June 2016 marked the 15th month in a row of year-over-year employment gains in excess of 3 percent. Construction led the way, followed by education, health and social services; trade, transport and utilities; financial activities; and leisure and hospitality, according to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. In fact, job growth was widespread across every industry sector except mining, and the dip there could be attributed to the global oil price collapse.
The governor’s office estimated that 123,386 people were working in Davis County in December 2016, a 2.2 percent increase over the 120,711 workers at the same time in 2015. Job growth in Weber County was even stronger, with 3.7 percent more workers in December 2016 than in December 2015: 106,574 versus 102,750.
Utah enjoyed a statewide unemployment rate of 3.1 percent as of November 2016, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services. That compared with a nationwide average of 4.6 percent. Davis County’s jobless rate stood at 2.9 percent, and Weber County’s at 3.5 percent.
Initial unemployment insurance claims have returned to pre-recession levels, and the labor market is tight, putting upward pressure on wages in both counties.
Davis County is home to Northfront Business Resource Center in Kaysville (www.datc.edu/northfrontbrc), which is dedicated to contributing to economic growth by helping small and newly formed businesses succeed. Resources available through the center to meet the needs of entrepreneurs include:
- Small Business Development Center (SBDC)
- Pro Series Business Training
- Service Corp of Retired Executives (SCORE)
- Utah Procurement Technical Assistance Centers (PTAC)
- Davis Chamber of Commerce
- Grow Utah Ventures
- USTAR Technology Outreach Center
- Northfront Entrepreneur Alliance
The median age in Davis County was 28.6 and in Weber County, 31.8, which contributes to the region’s young and energetic workforce. (Utah overall had a median age of 29.2 — and Utah is the most youthful state in the U.S., where the median age is 38). Median household income in Davis County was $71,112, and $56,581 in Weber County, the U.S. Census Bureau reported. Utah has a flat income tax rate of 5 percent; the state sales tax rate is 4.7 percent, and county taxes, set locally, are then added to that. The combined sales tax rate in Davis County is 6.75 percent; in Weber County, it’s 7.1 percent.
Rail and Transit Access
Utah and the Wasatch Front, with its excellent transportation network of highways and railroads and easy access to Salt Lake International Airport, serve as an interstate hub connecting the West Coast to the rest of the country. At one time, the Naval Defense Depot in Ogden was the nexus for delivering military provisions across the United States via the transcontinental railroad. Today, the railroad remains a national center for east-west rail traffic connecting with major lines in Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland and Seattle, and the depot has become one of the nation’s largest distribution centers.
A key factor in Utah’s favorable business climate is its status as a freeport state — meaning no inventory taxes are assessed on inventory stored within the state.
Interstate 15 and Highway 84 intersect in Ogden, with I-15 providing excellent northbound and southbound access, and Highway 84 providing direct access heading east. These routes are used by more than 700 trucking companies in Utah that transport goods to major metropolitan city centers, ports and markets. Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas and California are all within a day’s drive.
The Freeport Center in Ogden is occupied by more than 70 national and local companies, has more than 7 million square feet of manufacturing, distribution and storage space and employs more than 7,000 people. Tenants in the Freeport Center include such major operations as Kellogg, Lifetime Products, Honeywell International, Alliant Techsystems Composite and ATK Launch Systems.
Business Depot Ogden is a 1,118-acre master-planned business park with brick, concrete, steel and specialty buildings for retail frontage and warehouse and industrial space, connected with onsite rail services and easy access to Interstate 15, less than a mile away. A former military installation with current infrastructure investment exceeding $65 million plus an additional $155 million in new construction, BDO is one of Utah’s premier business and industrial parks. The more than 115 tenants include diverse companies such as ICON Health & Fitness, Kenco Group, Lofthouse Foods, Wayfair and TCR Composites, and more than 4,500 employees work on site.
“Wasatch” is the Ute Indian word meaning “mountain pass” or “low place in high mountains,” according to the state’s Glossary of Utah Terms. Since early settlement days, the Wasatch Range has been a rich resource for timber, granite and water. Today, the region is renowned for its recreational opportunities from skiing at scenic mountain resorts to fishing in rivers, streams and freshwater lakes to mountain biking with hundreds of miles of trails to explore. These natural assets strengthen the local economy and improve residents’ quality of life.
Weber County, called the Recreational Gem of Utah, has more than 160 miles of nonmotorized trails for hiking and biking in diverse terrain, as well as 11 area golf courses. Ogden’s Kayak Park was the first professionally designed play-park in Utah and draws much attention as a destination for kayakers. The park serves as a popular swimming hole when seasonal fluctuations make the water too shallow for boats.
Davis County, known as the Garden Spot of Utah because of its long growing season, also has miles of trails for hiking and biking, is home to 11 regionally ranked golf courses, and more than a dozen world-class ski resorts are within easy striking distance.
Hill Air Force Base
In terms of total employees and salaries, Hill Air Force Base is the biggest employer at a single site in Utah. The nearly 24,000 people who work there — including military and civilian personnel and private contractors — had a total federal payroll of $1.26 billion and annual expenditures of $814 million, according to the base’s 2015 Economic Impact Statement, and boosted the state’s economy by almost $3.3 billion, once an additional $1.2 billion from 27,000 indirect jobs was factored in.
More growth and improvements are in the works: The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act projects $44.5 million for the base to use on maintenance facilities, weapons maintenance storage units and facilities for the new F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter.
Falcon Hill National Aerospace Research Park, at Hill Air Force Base, is a 550-acre private development under an Air Force enhanced-use lease that will provide more than 2 million square feet of commercial space in its first phase, with additional expansion capability, staging benefits and infrastructure. It is projected to be the largest and most successful enhanced-use lease project in the Department of Defense’s history. For more information, visit www.cbre.us/o/saltlakecity/properties/falcon-hill/Pages/home.