Strong employment opportunities in Utah convince BYU graduates to stay

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Matt and Kelsey Boyce were excitedly preparing for graduation in April 2013. Matt was finishing an undergraduate degree in advertising, and Kelsey was completing a masters degree in communication disorders.

They were both from the Midwest, and like many BYU students, they found themselves dreaming of moving across the country, perhaps to live in Chicago, Orlando or Seattle. However, when commencement day finally arrived, they packed their belongings and drove north on I-15 to Draper.

Matt Boyce represents one of many who came to Utah for a four-year degree and stayed longer than expected.

As unemployment rates in Utah continue to decline well below the national average, many college graduates decide to settle in the Beehive State.

Many states continue struggling to come back from the recent economic downturn, but Utah maintains impressive rates in economic growth and job creation. As more employers move to Utah to take advantage of the state’s business environment, many graduates who planned on leaving decide to stay.

“After graduation, we wanted a change of pace and scenery, and we really wanted to embark on an adventure,” Boyce said. “We planned to have the car outside the Marriott Center after graduation to drive across the country. Instead we packed up a U-Haul ourselves and moved to Draper.”

After receiving multiple offers before graduating, Boyce began working full-time the day after commencement. He chose to stay in Utah, taking a job at Adobe and turning down an offer in Chicago, where the cost of living is almost triple Utah’s.

Every year, roughly 8,000 students graduate from BYU. Currently there are 371,871 living BYU graduates, and 45 percent of those graduates are Utah residents, even though two-thirds of BYU graduates are originally from outside Utah.

Many had big plans to leave after graduation, but Utah offers some unique advantages to lure graduates to stay.

Utah receives a steady stream of recognition from national news and business publications for continued low unemployment, a favorable business environment and family-friendly communities.

New numbers released from the state officials show Utah’s economic growth at 2.9 percent and a continued drop in the unemployment rate to 3.8, which is considerably lower than the national average of 6.3 percent.

Utah has the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the U.S. The states with better rates are North Dakota, Vermont, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska.

Mark Showalter, a BYU professor of economics, admits he is unsure about the exact cause of Utah’s good economic performance, but he does recognize a list of good conditions.

“Utah has a relatively high level of attraction for employers because of the low cost of building and other state-offered incentives. This job creation, coupled with the the surrounding natural resources, attracts employees,” he said.

Provo City Mayor John Curtis suggests some additional elements of the environment that contribute to the economy.

“Utah has really strong innovation, entrepreneurship and hard work that drive business success,” Curtis said.

Curtis attributed the success of businesses in Utah, like Nuskin and Novell, to their conservative nature during hard economic times. This success, in contrast to poorly performing states, encourages graduates to stay after college. Some leave but gravitate back.

Jeff Scott graduated from BYU in 1999 with a degree in finance then moved to Denver to work at Great West Financial for four years before he received a call from a recruiter in Utah.

Scott, who is from Tennessee, never planned on settling here.

“We didn’t plan on coming here, and we never planned on staying. But it felt like it was a good opportunity, and I felt like there was a lot more competition for jobs in Denver and more opportunity here,” he said.

Many reports confirm that these opportunities are more than just perception in Utah.

Economist Arthur Laffer created The Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index. The annual study, published last month, ranks Utah first for economic outlook and second for economic performance. The study considers tax rate, tax burden, minimum wage and average worker’s compensation cost.

Curtis sees the future getting brighter for Utah.

“Those principles will bode well for Utah. We’ll do better. BYU and UVU are massive influences of innovations. Companies are enhanced by the graduates that help them take wing,” Curtis said.

Scott is now vice president of retirement plans at FirstWest Retirement Solutions. Although it was never part of the plan, he and his wife, Jacqui, love raising their family of four in Sandy because they enjoy the balance between work and family.

“We love living here even though we never imagined living here,” Scott said. “Not only is there great opportunity, but this is a great place for families because there is a real culture of families here.”

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