A Spotlight on the Mountain States: The Kiplinger Letter

Most Mountain states are seeing good job growth in multiple sectors from healthcare, energy, and semiconductor production to farming and government.

USA, Wyoming, Country road and Teton Range at sunset
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Idaho will lead the way economically among the Mountain states this year, with job growth of 2%. People are still flocking to the Gem State, though the rate has fallen considerably since the pandemic. Housing prices in Idaho have risen faster than in any other state over the past five years as the population rose. Construction, healthcare and state government are all hiring briskly to keep up. Drought figures to crimp farm profits, but farm income should still come in strong, and a possible shift to a La Niña weather pattern this year could lead to more rainfall. 

Wyoming will be close behind Idaho, as its employment grows by 1.9%. Energy is a major driver of the state economy, from oil, gas and coal to solar power and wind farms, and even a proposed nuclear plant near Kemmerer — a real rarity in a nation that has built almost no reactors in recent decades. There are also plans for an underground carbon storage site near Gillette, which may have a better shot at going forward because the pipeline to bring in the CO2 would be relatively short. Major deposits of rare earth elements needed for high-tech gear are also promising. 

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Arizona is also growing swiftly, on tap for 1.5% employment growth. The state has become a major hub for semiconductor production. TSMC has an enormous plant under construction north of Phoenix and has plans for a second one to open by 2028. Intel is also investing heavily in Arizona, which could host the future federal center for semiconductor research. Meanwhile, the growing population is fueling fast growth in healthcare and construction. Water scarcity is a perennial challenge, though. 

Utah will rival Arizona, with job growth of 1.5%. The jobless rate is just 2.8% in Utah, though that’s up a bit from last year. In-migration is slowing, taking pressure off home prices, which should tick up only 1-3% this year. Salt Lake City and Provo have seen hiring slow the most, whereas Ogden is still strong. Lithium extraction from the Great Salt Lake using a more environmentally friendly method could go ahead in a few years. The company behind it, Lilac Solutions, hopes to be operating by 2026. Western actor Kevin Costner is building an elaborate film studio in St. George. 

Montana's job growth is a bit slower at 1.3%. As in Idaho, the population is growing rapidly, thanks to in-migration, though that trend has been slowing. Drought is a serious problem for farmers, as dry conditions spread east this year. Cattle ranchers are benefiting from high beef prices, but drought has thinned herds. The local firearms industry is growing, with new plants on tap in Glendive and Helena. 

Colorado is last on the list, with solid job growth of 1.1%. The labor market is tight, with the most unfilled jobs of any state in the region. Hiring is going strong in healthcare and local government, but other sectors are soft. Denver is struggling with an influx of illegal migrants, and the state legislature is debating a measure to curb new oil and gas development, which contributes 4% to the state’s GDP. Longmont is making a bid to become a semiconductor hub with state financing. Goose Gear, a maker of off-road vehicle accessories, is moving its HQ to Grand Junction.

This forecast first appeared in The Kiplinger Letter, which has been running since 1923 and is a collection of concise weekly forecasts on business and economic trends, as well as what to expect from Washington, to help you understand what’s coming up to make the most of your investments and your money. Subscribe to The Kiplinger Letter.

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David Payne
Staff Economist, The Kiplinger Letter

David is both staff economist and reporter for The Kiplinger Letter, overseeing Kiplinger forecasts for the U.S. and world economies. Previously, he was senior principal economist in the Center for Forecasting and Modeling at IHS/GlobalInsight, and an economist in the Chief Economist's Office of the U.S. Department of Commerce. David has co-written weekly reports on economic conditions since 1992, and has forecasted GDP and its components since 1995, beating the Blue Chip Indicators forecasts two-thirds of the time. David is a Certified Business Economist as recognized by the National Association for Business Economics. He has two master's degrees and is ABD in economics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.