SALT LAKE CITY — Utah employers added 35,800 jobs and experienced job growth of 2.9 percent in 2012, the state's highest rate since 2007, according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics.
About 71,000 Utahns are still looking for work, but the state improved from a 5.8 percent unemployment rate a year ago to 5.2 percent. Utah remains far below the national average of 7.8 percent.
Several Utah industries made significant gains in 2012. The professional and business services sector, consisting largely of accounting, engineering and design, added 10,400 jobs, an increase of 6.3 percent.
"That's absolutely what you want to see because these are generally high-education, high-salaried jobs," said Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. "It creates a strong trickle-down effect for the rest of the economy here."
Knold said Utahns are learning to adjust in the face of a post-recession economy and several rapidly changing industries.
"The important thing to employers now is thinking, innovating and problem-solving," he said. "That's what's going to get people ahead and drive our economy forward in the information age."
The information sector, which includes publishers, telecommunications and Internet service providers, enjoyed the greatest percentage increase in 2012. The industry grew by 7.3 percent and provided work for an additional 2,200 Utahns.
"Given overall conditions currently in the United States, these numbers are growing at a pretty decent rate," said Michael Ransom, a professor of economics at BYU who specializes in labor economics. "It may be because of the unique mix of growing industries here."
Construction was the only major sector in 11 categories to report fewer jobs than a year ago, with a decrease of 1,500. Because of the seasonal nature of the work, Knold said, it will likely pick up once the severe weather abates.
"It is probably related to an unusually warm December 2011 boosting the construction environment versus cold and snowy weather for December 2012," he said. "Further employment setbacks are not considered the long-term pattern for 2013."
Unemployment dropped for the third year in a row. In 2010 and 2011, however, the rate likely dropped because fewer Utahns were actively looking for jobs.
"Over the last year, it's come down because people are actually getting back to work," Knold said.
The state still has a long way to go before equaling its pre-recession prosperity. Only an estimated 2.7 percent of Utahns were unemployed in March 2007.