Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Range of factors combine to keep state on ‘solid’ job growth pace

WASHINGTON – Arizona added 54,700 jobs from January 2016 to January 2017, a 2 percent increase that put it near the top of states for job growth, according to a jobs report released this month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Experts point to traditional factors, like the state’s steady population growth and its low-tax, pro-business environment, as well as increased private-sector confidence stemming from President Donald Trump’s promise of deregulation.

The job growth, combined with the lowest unemployment in the state in nine years, made for an employment picture that was “certainly not spectacular, but very solid,” said Lee McPheters, the director of the JPMorgan Chase Economic Outlook Center at Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business.

“The numbers look pretty much what we’ve seen for the Arizona economy for the past several years,” McPheters said.

The figure puts Arizona in the top 25 percent for the rate of its employment increase over the year.

Trump, who had questioned the veracity of growing jobs numbers under President Barack Obama, was quick to claim credit for the jobs growth in this latest report. White House spokesman Sean Spicer on March 10 quoted Trump as saying jobs numbers “may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.”

But the latest numbers are an continuation of a national economic climb that’s began midway through the Obama administration. That the economy is improving was evidenced by the Federal Reserve’s decision last week to increase the benchmark interest rate, usually a sign of economic health.

Trump’s rhetoric on limiting government gets some credit for the increase. That focus, which is shared by Gov. Doug Ducey, is attractive for many in the private sector.

“Companies are picking up and relocating here, consumer confidence is up, and unemployment is at a nine-year low – and the credit goes to Arizona’s businesses and their employees,” said Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey.

“The governor is laser-focused on doing things to get government out of the way and show Arizona is open for business, and this will continue to be a top focus,” Ptak said.

Ducey’s call in his January State of the State address for increased investment in education could also explain the growth, said Garrick Taylor, a spokesman at the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Not only will they encounter a good tax, legal and regulatory environment in Arizona, they’ll also encounter a talent pipeline,” Taylor said of prospective employers.

The number of workers in the health and education sector, a powerful economic driver in the state, jumped to 418,500, around 12,000 more than in January 2016, according to the BLS report.

Banner Health, one of the biggest private employers in Arizona, added around 3,100 jobs from February to February, according to a spokesman from the Southwestern healthcare giant.

Banner is expanding several of its hospitals, including the construction of a $239 million patient tower and a $179 million emergency department at Banner University in Phoenix, said David Lozano, a senior manager with the company.

“We are seeing continued growth plus an aging population,” Lozano said. “As a result, there will be a higher demand for quality health care.”

But while the state’s vitals are good, McPheters cautioned that the business community needs to understand its optimism is not necessarily reflected in policy.

“I would say right now, that psychologically, this is a period when all of the business surveys are very upbeat,” McPheters said. “At the same time, the reality is that, the things they are upbeat about, which is potential tax cuts, regulation changes, those things have really not been implemented or really considered at this point.”