Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Downtown Labor Pull

Mark Knold, Supervising Economist

Major metropolitan areas center on a large city and its downtown core. In Utah, that is Salt Lake City. A skyline of office buildings are fed by a transportation artery designed to funnel labor to this economic center. Downtowns can be known for being more of a work area than a residential area, and so workday populations can swell in a downtown, then ebb as the evening unfolds.

A U.S. Census Bureau product entitled Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) has a great mapping tool that allows users to outline a geographic area and then see how many workers work in that area and where they commute from. Let’s look at the Salt Lake City downtown core.

The downtown will be defined as extending from I-15 eastward along North Temple to 700 East, then south to 800 South and west back to I-15. This rectangle roughly follows census block groups, which is the lowest foundation the LEHD program will geographically measure. Within this zone, roughly 58,100 jobs exist  (as of 2011, so 2015 totals would be higher). Of that total, 11,350, or 20 percent, live in Salt Lake City itself. The remaining 80 percent come in from surrounding cities and counties.

The list to the left are cities and their supply into the 58,100 jobs. It is a diverse list.

As expected, workers approach the downtown from all directions. It’s interesting to see that a city as far away as Spanish Fork supplies as many workers to the downtown as does Woods Cross, a city much closer. The work appeal and the quality of jobs available to come into the downtown area have a far reach. Even a city with its own downtown core, such as Ogden, supplies close to 900 workers for downtown Salt Lake City.

There is another major employment area to the east of the downtown core — the University of Utah (U of U) and its surroundings. That area accounts for another 32,000 jobs. Its commuting pattern for employment looks like this:


Naturally the Salt Lake valley supplies the most workers into the downtown and U of U areas, as Salt Lake County
is the heart of Utah’s population center. The downtown environs heavily rely upon the surrounding communities to supply its labor.

This is the case with all of Salt Lake City, not just the downtown and U of U areas. Using 2001 data, Salt Lake City included 213,100 jobs, but the labor force of Salt Lake City is only 102,700. So there is nearly a doubling every work day of labor coming into and out of Salt Lake City, its downtown and its U of U heights.

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 [1] The downtown employment levels are actually higher but not quantifiable, as the LDS Church and its downtown headquarters are not required by law to report employment levels into the state’s unemployment insurance ledger.

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