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Companies in Utah and surrounding states are projected to lead the nation in the hiring of information technology workers during the first three months of 2013, according to a study released Wednesday.

Robert Half Technology's Q1 2013 Hiring Index and Skills Report said that 18 percent of chief information officers in Utah and adjacent states plan to hire more IT employees in the first quarter — nine percentage points above the U.S. average.

"It makes sense," said Mark Knold, chief economist at the Utah Department of Workforce Services. "Our data show that over the past year IT [employment in Utah] grew 7 percent."

Knold said IT employment in Utah declined 5 percent in 2009, but the industry has made a quick recovery since then.

The IT industry employs nearly 50,000 people in Utah.

Despite the strong hiring prospects, Utah suffers from a shortage of IT workers available to fill open positions — so much so that it is holding back the growth of the state's high tech industries, Richard Nelson, CEO of the Utah Technology Council.

"We have literally thousands of open, high paid positions available here in Utah," Nelson said. "The big challenge we face is how we are going to find enough talent to continue to grow."

The shortage of talent is being felt by big and small companies alike.

Brad Rencher, senior vice president and general manager of Adobe's digital marketing unit, said last week that the software company hopes that its new campus in Lehi will help attract the talent it needs.

"We are hiring," he said. "It's always a challenge to find talent."

Nationwide, 17 percent of chief information officers said they plan to expand their IT department. Another 8 percent expect cutbacks, according to the report.

"CIOs report higher demand for IT professions in the first quarter, especially for those with skills in hot areas such as applications development and IT security," John Reed, senior executive director of Robert Half Technology, said.

Reed said that with the start of each new year, there often is an increase in demand for workers as annual budgets get approved and companies are able to hire additional workers.

Other findings in the report:

• Of the CIOs who took part in a survey for the report, 87 percent said they were somewhat or very confident in their companies' prospects for growth in the first quarter.

• Forty nine percent said they were confident their firms would invest in IT projects in the first quarter, while 48 percent said they were not very or not at all confident.

• The CIOs said it is difficult to find skilled IT workers in the areas of IT security, applications development and data-based management.

The Robert Half report indicated that 26 percent of executives in the manufacturing industry expect the most IT hiring, followed by 14 percent in the services industry and 12 percent in the financial services arena.

Todd Bingham, president of the Utah Manufacturers Association, said that coincides with what he is hearing from his members.

"Manufacturing is becoming more technology driven all the time," Bingham said. "And being able to find the right people to work in that area is a necessity."

The report is based on more than 1,400 telephone interviews with CIOs from a random sample of U.S. companies with 100 or more employees.

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