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Utah's unemployment rate went up a few decimal points in March, a sure sign of an improving economy to Utah Department of Workforce Services economist Mark Knold.

"It's not because of layoffs or signs of weakness we see in the greater Utah economy," he said Friday of the department's monthly employment report, which put the state's jobless rate at 4.1 percent, up 0.2 percentage points from February.

His interpretation of the number: "In a deep recession, you're going to get people who move to the sidelines, leave the workforce because of the lack of opportunities. They wait until the economy strengthens and … then step out of the woodwork and look for a job."

They're stepping out now, Knold said, contributing to an increase of 2,200 in the number of unemployed Utahns actively looking for work in March — to about 59,300 in all.

Spurring their interest was the state's steady if unspectacular recovery from the recession, he said. Utah's economy supported 1.3 million jobs last month, 35,800 more than in March of 2013. That is a 2.8 percent growth rate, up from 2.5 percent in February but still below the state's long-run average of 3.1 percent.

Nationally, the jobless rate in March was 6.7 percent — the same as February, but down from 7.5 percent one year earlier.

Knold was particularly pleased by the continued improvement in the construction sector, where employment was up 6.3 percent from the previous March.

"It's nice to see the construction industry be part of the overall recovery," he said. "Utah's had pretty good job growth over the last two years with minimal help from one of the leading industries. When you look at the history of recoveries out of recessions, one of the leaders is construction."

While it has taken longer for construction to bounce back from the depths of this recession, Richard Thorn, of the Associated General Contractors of Utah, is buoyant about the industry's brightening prospects.

"A little bit of optimism is returning to the construction industry," he said, referring to the industry's year-over-year addition of 4,300 jobs. "That's a thing of beauty, isn't it?"

"We believe that construction is the engine that drives our economy. When construction dollars are parked on the sideline, it's not good," Thorn added. "But when building permits go up, the benefits trickle down and it affects employment and pocketbooks."

More prosperity is in the forecast, he predicted, citing the impending onset of a multi-year, $1.8 billion renovation of Salt Lake City International Airport's terminals as a big jobs producer.

Knold also is bullish about the housing-construction market, pointing to a pent-up demand for homes being unleashed after the self-sacrificing years of the recession.

Almost 13,000 building permits were issued in the state last year, a solid improvement over the paltry 10,000 issued when the economy bottomed out, he said. But the number is still well below the 25,000 permits granted annually in 2005 and 2006.

Despite an average snow year, Utah's hospitality industry also posted solid employment figures in March. As the ski season drew to an end, the industry employed 129,600 people, about 6,500 more than a year earlier.

Knold attributed most of the increase to new restaurants opening to serve Utah's steadily growing population.

"The population base kept growing through the recession," he noted. "With the economy improving, the industry is playing catch up. They're building more restaurants to keep up with population growth."

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Jobs report

O The full report from the Utah Department of Workforce Services may be read at