SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – A year ago, Utah’s economy experienced an historic economic interruption with the COVID-19 pandemic, that introduced an abnormal, non-foundational distortion upon the economy. But since restrictions began easing up and allowed local businesses to open back up to full capacity, we’ve been hearing about labor shortages and difficulties in hiring.

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, labor shortages don’t come to the forefront unless there is strong labor demand. So when cries of labor shortages emerge, that means labor demand has also emerged.

The state’s first indication of that increased labor demand came from June’s numbers. Evaluating the economy on a 24-month basis, Utah’s economy grew from 2.3 percent in May to 3.3 percent in June. Economists with Utah DWS say growth that rapid rarely happens. With this rapid reawakening comes an instant need for large quantities of labor. Experts say labor doesn’t respond as quickly as the job postings appear, so there is a lag between the demand for labor and the response from the labor supply.

Now a year and a half after the start of the pandemic, nearly all of the economy is ready to return to normal, which is asking for a lot from the labor supply in this process. Utah DWS said some of that labor is not yet ready to re-engage and consequently, job openings are going unfilled. Because of this, the Utah economy will probably not achieve its full potential this year. But even then, job growth will continue and Utah could remain one of the nation’s best-performing state economies.

William Bruce, owner of Robintino’s and Bout Time Pub joined ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen on the CW30 News at 7 p.m. for an IN FOCUS discussion. He talked about how severely COVID-19 impacted their operations and revenue, what their experience was trying to fill open positions and hire employees with the economy bouncing back, and how they’ve incentivized more people to apply by increasing wages and providing sign-on bonuses.

Melva Sine, CEO and president of the Utah Restaurant Association shared what challenges other local restaurants are facing in their hiring process, how staff shortages impact their operations and services provided to customers, whether she thinks it’s helpful for employers to offer hiring incentives, and the resources still available for restaurant owners who are still struggling.

Mark Knold, chief economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services discussed what labor shortages mean, what June’s numbers tell us about the state’s increased labor demand, how the COVID-19 pandemic uniquely impacted Utah’s economy, the rapid reawakening we are experiencing now, whether there is excess labor to be had, how long it could take for our working age population to reengage to levels we saw before the pandemic, which industries will likely experience the most difficulty bouncing back, and whether it helps for employers to incentivize workers to apply.

To watch the full IN FOCUS discussion with Bruce, Sine, and Knold, click on the video at the top of the article.

Catch IN FOCUS discussions with ABC4’s Rosie Nguyen weeknights on the CW30 News at 7 p.m.

Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.