Sunday, July 29, 2012

No Evidence of Net Job Growth in Ogden

New Ogden jobs were offset by losses, while surrounding suburbs grew.

By Dan Schroeder

Ogden has added thousands and thousands of jobs over the last ten or twelve years—right?

We read about Ogden’s tremendous job growth so often that it has become almost axiomatic, no longer requiring evidence or proof. But job growth has political consequences, and in politics it’s wise to question everything. How many jobs has Ogden really gained in recent years?

As far as I’m aware, nobody has ever made a careful attempt to answer this question. So in this article I’ll give it my best shot. The answer, believe it or not, is that there’s no hard evidence that Ogden has had any net job growth at all.

The claims

First let’s review the job growth claims that have been made in recent years. These claims have come in two varieties.

The first type of claim is that Ogden has added so-many-thousand jobs over a certain time period. The earliest example that I know of was in a campaign brochure that Mayor Godfrey mailed to voters when he was running for reelection in 2007. The brochure states that “Ogden has recruited 6,755 new jobs since Matthew Godfrey became mayor.” It then enumerates the jobs added by 16 specific companies and developments:

25th Street
American Can Complex
Business Depot Ogden
Fresenius Medical Expansion    
Twin Rivers (IRS)
Kemp Gateway Center
Hampton Inn and Suites
Ogden Blue
The Junction
Spolar Building
Business Information Center
Williams International
The River Project
US Foods
Union Square
Ski Companies

These numbers actually add up to 8,670, easily exceeding the top-line claim of 6,755. But the list obviously includes some redundancy (e.g., ski companies at American Can and BDO), as well as some chickens that hadn’t actually hatched (e.g., Adam Aircraft’s thousand-or-so jobs at the Kemp Gateway Center).

In any case, it’s clear that this list includes only companies and developments where the city administration is taking credit for “recruitment”; it omits job gains that happened without any such government involvement, and it doesn’t subtract off any job losses that occurred over the same time period. Notably, the list also includes some employers that merely moved jobs from one location to another within Ogden, such as the IRS (which moved quite a few jobs into downtown) and the Standard-Examiner (which moved from downtown to BDO).

Similar claims about new jobs have been coming up ever since. In early 2010, a reference to “7,000 added jobs” appeared on the mayor’s official blog and in an almost identical article in the city’s At Your Service utility bill insert. Wondering where that figure came from, I filed a formal records request with the city at that time, asking for “any and all records itemizing or documenting the creation of approximately 7,000 jobs in Ogden City during recent years.” Amazingly, the city found no existing records that were responsive to this request. However, Community and Economic Development Director Richard McConkie replied with a memo containing a list similar to the one above, minus the duplications and wishful thinking.

By the time Godfrey left office last winter, the total had grown to 8,000 “recruited” jobs, as stated in a “Done list” that his office provided for a Standard-Examiner front-page story, and on the web site of his new consulting company. During the 2011 Ogden mayoral campaign, candidate Brandon Stephenson credited the Godfrey administration with bringing in “about a thousand jobs a year.”

But again, these numbers include some relocations within the city, and they completely ignore any simultaneous job losses.

The second type of claim seems to address these shortcomings, because it’s based on official government employment statistics. Last September, the Standard-Examiner reported that the Ogden area ranked high in two different third-party analyses of the government numbers. First we were ranked second in the nation in percentage job growth during the second quarter of 2011. Then, just two weeks later, we were ranked first in percentage job growth between August 2010 and August 2011.

But the “we” in these statements—as in nearly all the statistical rankings of cities that you periodically see in the news—is not Ogden City. It’s the Ogden-Clearfield Metropolitan Statistical Area, which includes all of Weber, Davis, and Morgan counties. While Ogden is still the largest city in the Ogden-Clearfield MSA, it now accounts for only 15% of the area’s population and (as we’ll see below) about 25% of the total jobs. It’s not at all clear that rapid job growth in the MSA implies rapid job growth in Ogden City.

Although the Standard-Examiner was careful to distinguish the MSA from the city, the politicians who have repeated these claims haven’t been so meticulous. During the 2011 mayoral campaign, candidate Mike Caldwell stated that “we” had been recognized as “the second best community in the nation at job growth.” After the election, Mayor Godfrey’s “Done list” claimed that his administration “led the nation in job growth for the past 12 months.” His consulting company’s web site says that “when we left that community they were leading the country in job growth.”

To see what these MSA-level statistics really mean for Ogden City, we’ll need to look at employment data on a finer geographical scale. We’ll also look at longer time periods, to see whether these superlative rankings reflect a true trend or merely a brief statistical fluctuation.

County-level employment data

Fortunately, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does provide employment data at the county level. It’s released less often and less quickly than the MSA data, so it gets much less attention from the press. But it’s there for the taking at the BLS web site, under “Quarterly Census of Employment & Wages - QCEW.” You can use an interactive tool to extract data from 2001 through 2011. With more patience, you can download data tables in spreadsheet format dating back to 1990. The web site seems to have data tables going all the way back to 1975, but the ones from before 1990 are in a format that I can’t readily decode. Although the data is released in quarterly installments, it includes separate employment numbers for each month.

(For completeness, I should explain that the BLS employment data don’t quite include everyone who works for pay. The major exclusions are uniformed military and those who are self-employed or informally employed. In any case, these are the data that virtually everyone uses, and the omissions should have little effect on the trends. A further complication is that the monthly releases of MSA-level data (called Current Employment Statistics, or CES) use a rather different methodology (based on a survey of selected employers) than the QCEW (which uses unemployment insurance paperwork). For the Ogden-Clearfield MSA, this difference has generally caused the CES numbers to be higher than the QCEW numbers by a little over 1%. Again, this makes essentially no difference in the long-term trends, as long as you consistently use one data set or the other. Finally, please note that the QCEW data for 2011 are still considered preliminary, subject to future adjustment.)

I’ve downloaded and compiled all the available employment data since 1990 for Weber, Davis, and Morgan counties, which together make up the Ogden-Clearfield MSA. (Click here for a spreadsheet of this data.) Unsurprisingly, Morgan County contributes only 1% of the total jobs. Of the other 99%, Weber County provided more than half until about 2001 and Davis has surpassed Weber since then. Here, without further ado, is a graph of the numbers of jobs in Weber and Davis counties from 1990 through 2011.

What does this graph tell us?

In Davis County there are substantial but predictable seasonal fluctuations, caused mostly by the construction industry and Lagoon. Aside from these fluctuations, job growth in Davis County was remarkably steady from 1990 through 2007. The Great Recession then caused a dip for a couple of years, but the preliminary numbers for 2011 indicate job growth that was strong enough to completely replace the lost jobs and surpass the pre-recession peak.

In Weber County, overall job growth has been slower. Furthermore, Weber County experienced a period of almost no job growth from about 1997 through 2003. But there was a period of extremely rapid job growth during the mid-1990s, and a smaller growth spurt during the mid-2000s. Then the Great Recession erased most of the latter spurt, and the 2011 data show (preliminarily) that few of the lost jobs have been replaced.

Of course, Davis County’s higher rate of job growth is closely tied to its higher rate of population growth. From 1990 to 2010, Davis County’s population increased by 63%, while Weber County’s population increased by 46%. But even on a per-capita basis, Davis has added more jobs than Weber. The precise connection between population and jobs depends on commuting patterns (more Davis County residents work outside their home county), on demographic factors (what fraction of residents are in the work force), and on the unemployment rate (which is higher in Weber County than in Davis). A thorough discussion of these relationships is beyond the scope of this article, as is any opinion on whether elected officials should focus on job growth as an end in itself.

Getting back to the previously mentioned claims about recent job growth in the “Ogden area,” what these county-level data tell us is this: From 2010 to 2011, nearly all of the job growth in the Ogden-Clearfield MSA was in Davis County, not Weber.

Let’s look specifically at the questions asked by the two studies mentioned above. The first study compared the second quarter of 2011 to the first quarter, applying a seasonal adjustment to offset the predictable seasonal effects. After this adjustment, the study found that the Ogden-Clearfield MSA’s job gain was 1.8%—remarkable for such a short time period, given the state of the national economy. But when I apply similar seasonal adjustments to the county-level data for 2011, I find a second quarter job gain in Weber County of only 0.1%, and a gain in Davis County of 0.9%. (You can more or less see this in the graph if you mentally average over the seasonal fluctuations.) So these data do not corroborate the impressive job gain—second in the nation—that last summer’s newly released (but preliminary) data seemed to show. And the gain that did occur was almost entirely in Davis County.

The other study from last September compared August 2011 to August 2010. It concluded that the Ogden-Clearfield MSA gained 7,200 jobs during that time period, for a first-in-nation percentage increase of 3.7%. Here, however, are what the county-level data show for the same time period:

  Jobs gained   Percentage increase
Entire MSA    

Notice that 90% of the added jobs were in Davis County.

This example again shows that it was premature to declare the Ogden-Clearfield MSA tops in the nation based on the preliminary data released last September. A 2.8% overall gain would have put Ogden-Clearfield in sixth place, which is still nothing to be ashamed of. The revised monthly CES data show an even greater discrepancy from last year’s numbers: only 3,400 new jobs, for an increase of 1.7%. Note that the 2011 numbers are still considered preliminary, so further revisions are quite possible.

Both of these examples highlight an important lesson: Journalists should pay a lot less attention to rankings of metropolitan areas based on short-term changes calculated from the latest, newly-released employment data. In all likelihood the rankings will change as the numbers are revised over time. And even if the numbers weren’t revised at all, such rankings are subject to erratic fluctuations depending on exactly which time period you look at. For example, in the most recent ranking by the same source as the study just described, the Ogden-Clearfield MSA ranked 70th out of 100, with job growth of only 0.36% from April 2011 to April 2012. Rather than snapshots, we should be looking at longer-term trends.

The long-term trends for Weber County tell a mixed story, but one conclusion is abundantly clear: There was no abrupt and miraculous change when Mayor Godfrey took office in January 2000. In fact, contrary to the prevailing wisdom, Weber County gained twice as many jobs during Mayor Mecham’s two terms in office (1992-1999) as during Mayor Godfrey’s first two terms (2000-2007). And while the Great Recession certainly wasn’t Godfrey’s fault, Weber County wasn’t immune to the recession either: Half the jobs that the county gained during Godfrey’s first two terms were lost during his third.

Zooming in to cities and neighborhoods

Of course, Weber County isn’t the same as Ogden City. If we really want to assign credit (or blame) to Ogden’s political leaders, and assess those leaders’ claims about thousands of added jobs, we need employment data on a finer geographical scale.

Such data does exist. But there’s not enough of it, and it must be used with care. The U.S. Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LED) program has a fantastic online database with a geographical user interface called OnTheMap. It currently contains an employment data set for each year from 2002 through 2010, which you can query for any geographical area of any size. However, in order to protect the privacy of individual employers and employees, the data is deliberately blurred on fine geographical scales. In practice, the results appear to be usable for a city the size of Ogden, and even for parts of Ogden covering at least a few square miles. (Like the data on the BLS web site, the OnTheMap data is ultimately based on employers’ UI reports and therefore omits the military and those who are self-employed or informally employed.)

Here is an OnTheMap-generated image showing the density of jobs in Ogden and vicinity during 2010, with darker shades of blue indicating higher job densities (click to enlarge):

As you can see, the biggest concentration of jobs is in downtown Ogden, followed by the area of WSU and McKay-Dee Hospital. Next in job density are the Ogden Industrial Park and the area around Newgate Mall, followed by broader areas including Business Depot Ogden and much of South Ogden, Washington Terrace, and Riverdale.

According to OnTheMap, there were 49,988 jobs within the Ogden City limits during 2010. That’s about 56% of all the jobs in Weber County, and about 25% of all the jobs in the Ogden-Clearfield MSA.

And how has Ogden’s job total changed over time? Answering this question is trickier, because OnTheMap’s data for earlier years (prior to 2010) does not include employees of the federal government. This is a problem because Weber County’s largest employer is the IRS, and the total number of federal jobs in the county is nearly 7,000 (according to the QCEW data). Most of those federal jobs have always been within Ogden City, but OnTheMap gives us no way to determine how many might have moved between the city and the suburbs. To make matters worse, OnTheMap’s 2010 data, which does include federal workers, does not provide a separate count of those workers. So you can’t even subtract them off to make a consistent comparison to the earlier years. Fortunately, OnTheMap does classify jobs by the type of work, and virtually all of the federal jobs seem to fall in the “public administration” category. So by excluding this category, you can at least make comparisons for non-government jobs (that is, also excluding state and local public administrators).

In the graph that follows, I’ve plotted two data sets each for Ogden City and, for comparison, Weber County. (Click here for a detailed spreadsheet.) For either city or county, the upper, darker line is the total number of jobs in OnTheMap’s database—excluding federal jobs except for the final, disconnected point. The lower, lighter line shows all jobs except those in the public administration category, thus presumably excluding virtually all federal jobs even in 2010.

And what do these graphs tell us? It certainly appears that Ogden has lost jobs, over this time period, even as the county as a whole has gained a modest number of jobs. According to these data, Ogden did gain more than 3,000 non-federal jobs between 2006 and 2007, but this gain was more than offset by declines before and after; the net loss in non-public-administration jobs over the whole time period was about 2,000, or 4.8%. Of course, it’s possible that some of this loss could have been canceled, over the same time period, by a transfer of federal jobs from the nearby suburbs into Ogden City. But any such transfer probably wasn’t large, since we know that most of the federal jobs have always been within the city limits. We also know from the QCEW data that there was no county-wide growth in federal jobs over this time period.

To compare to the Godfrey administration’s claims about thousands of “added jobs,” we would also need to know what happened between 2000 and 2002, and between 2010 and the present. It seems unlikely that Ogden added jobs during the earlier time period, when the county as a whole actually lost about 1,300 jobs. Could Ogden have gained enough jobs over the last two years to undo the apparent loss of two or three thousand over the previous decade? It seems unlikely, though not impossible. We’ll find out eventually, after more recent data has been added to OnTheMap.

If Ogden as a whole hasn’t gained any net jobs, what about just downtown? I asked OnTheMap for a report on just the central city, from 20th Street to 30th and from the railroad tracks east to Monroe. The answer? This area lost more than a thousand non-public-administration jobs between 2002 and 2010. (The biggest loss was probably from the downsizing of the AOL / Teleperformance call center.) On the other hand, we know that the IRS transferred more than 1,000 jobs into downtown between 2002 and 2003. With additional transfers to the new IRS building that just opened this year, it’s possible—though hardly certain—that downtown Ogden has seen a modest net job gain since 2002.

More dramatic job gains have occurred at Business Depot Ogden. OnTheMap indicates that employment there grew from about 800 in 2002 to about 4,000 by 2007 and nearly 4,700 by 2010. These numbers roughly confirm those that have been put out by the Godfrey administration. But over the same time period, the Ogden Industrial Park has lost about 2,800 jobs. More generally, job gains in some parts of Ogden seem to have been more than canceled by losses in other parts.


I apologize for the excessive length of this article, but when the facts contradict the conventional wisdom, they require a lot of documentation. With the documentation now out of the way, here’s a summary of the main conclusions:
  • Last year’s superlative job-growth rankings for the Ogden-Clearfield MSA have not withstood the test of time, as more accurate data have become available.
  • The Ogden-Clearfield MSA has still added jobs faster than most of the country, but these gains have been driven mostly by growth in Davis County.
  • Weber County gained far more jobs during the mid-1990s than at any time since. The county’s smaller job growth spurt during the mid-2000s was mostly undone by the Great Recession.
  • Jobs data for Ogden City are incomplete, but seem to indicate a net loss of about 2,000 jobs between 2002 and 2010.
  • Downtown Ogden lost private-sector jobs between 2002 and 2010, but these losses were probably outweighed by the transfer of IRS jobs into downtown.
  • Business Depot Ogden has added about 4,000 jobs over the last decade, while the Ogden Industrial Park has lost about 2,800 jobs.
  • Politicians’ claims about Ogden’s thousands of added jobs do have a factual basis, but they include many jobs that merely moved within the city, and they ignore concurrent job losses.
These conclusions raise many further questions. Some readers may prefer to focus more on the quality of jobs than their quantity, while others may consider Ogden’s unemployment rate to be more important than the absolute number of jobs. The government databases contain endless numbers that can address these questions, although their accuracy declines as one gets into the finer details. This also means that with a little data dredging, anyone with a political agenda can easily paint a much brighter—or much gloomier—picture of Ogden’s economic situation.

Finally, let me emphasize that this analysis is not meant to be a criticism of Ogden City’s employer recruitment efforts. The data do raise the question of whether there might be room for improvement in the area of job retention. But the recruitment efforts have obviously borne considerable fruit, and that fact cannot be dismissed.

There are at least two possible ways to reconcile the city’s successful employer recruitment program with the simultaneous lack of net job growth. One possibility is that some recruitment efforts have merely steered employers into certain specific locations, rather than actually bringing them into the city. The other possibility is that without recruitment, there would have been fewer job gains to offset the inevitable losses. Like the Red Queen, Ogden may need to run as fast as it can just to stay in the same place.


blackrulon said...

It appears that all of the claimed employed people and new business starts and expansions are not renting homes or buying vacant buildings in Ogden.

OneWhoKnows2 said...

All this data means that Godfrey lied to us?  Go figure.  I had that figured out early into his second term.  Guess who's going to have to pick up the tab?

Dan S. said...

The late 90s bump in Weber County employment is probably due, at least in part, to the rise and fall of Iomega. Does anyone know how many employees Iomega had in Roy during its heyday?

Dan S. said...

Ah--here's the answer: About 2,000 employees around the end of 1997.

BikerBabe said...

 We are ,,, and will for the next 20+ years!


Dan S. said...

Coincidentally, today's Salt Lake Tribune has an article on the tax incentive program of the Governor's Office of Economic Development. The article specifically mentions that Fresenius has created more than 450 (so far) of 1100 new jobs promised in 2006, and that Amer Sports has created "more than half" of 230 that were promised. So I'm starting to wonder whether even the numbers in McConkie's memo included some chickens that hadn't hatched.

Danny said...

Government cannot create jobs nor stimulate them on a net basis.  It only moves jobs around.  Gold's Gym moved from one building to another, as did Wells Fargo, leaving their previous two buildings empty.  These are two examples.

But what I want to know is this:  If there have been no net jobs, then why are the roads more crowded on Ogden and the air more polluted?  I know a lot of people have gone on food stamps and disability.  Is that the reason?

Dan S. said...

More crowded than when, Danny? The data for Ogden City go back only to 2002, so there could have been net job creation in the 1990s or earlier. Even without more jobs in Ogden, the population can increase (and commute elsewhere for work). WSU's enrollment has been increasing, with more and more students commuting from Davis County. And it's likely that people are driving more because the small neighborhood shops nearby have been replaced with big boxes that are farther away. (For example, I used to patronize a hardware store downtown, but now I have to drive twice as far to Home Depot.)

Ogdentaxpayer said...

Where is the high tech center that Godfrey bragged about and got a million fro the state for it. and where is the million now? I bet it is in Godfrey's pocket, with Mark Johnson pocket also.

Ogdentaxpayer said...

 lies and denies is all they know.

Danny said...


Curious said...

This write-up seems to be very well researched. Thanks for your time and effort. Just wondering if any of the data you’ve been able to access provides any indicators of the type of jobs that have been created, or if it’s all just raw numbers?

I know that any job creation is good, but not all jobs are “created equal.” For example, a few hundred managerial or professional jobs likely surpasses a thousand lower-level jobs like dishwashers or cashiers, economically speaking.

I would guess that Davis County’s focus on recruiting soulless chains and big box retailers likely contributed a pile of low-paying jobs, while Ogden’s focus on companies like Amer Sports, for example, contributed far fewer jobs, but the kind of jobs with higher taxable incomes, filled by individuals who invest in homes, community organizations, etc.

I know all the Godfrey claims (and less-than-stellar reporting by the media) focus on job quantity. I’m just wondering if your research has given any indication as to job quality. It would seem to be another level of reporting that would shed a bit more light on things. Please let us know if the information you’ve dug up includes any such insights.

My gut tells me that the server jobs on Layton’s restaurant row or in cashier and shelf-stocker positions in whatever mega home improvement warehouse or electronics store in Farmington are the kind of jobs that people can easily leave to chase the next offer down the road in Salt Lake or Utah County with the only challenge being finding another rental to live in. On the contrary, mid-manager and executive jobs at some of Ogden’s recently relocated companies are the kind of jobs where people stick around for longer terms with a commitment to improve the communities where they work, invest and live.

Please understand that I’m not taking any sides. Just curious about a deeper level of understanding.

Dan S. said...

Great questions! I briefly alluded to this at the end of the article when I mentioned quality of jobs vs. quantity. Yes, the data do include breakdowns by job type and even by salary. So in principle, you could try to use the data to answer these kinds of questions. I've made no attempt to do so. To look at salary trends over time, you'd have to adjust salaries for inflation. You'd also have to be very aware of the possibility of statistical noise, which can come either from inaccurate reporting by employers or, in the OnTheMap data, from the deliberate blurring that they do to protect privacy. Because of these effects, I don't know whether you could extract any robust conclusions. But it would be worth a try if anyone wanted to do the work.

Without looking at the actual numbers, I suspect that the downtown IRS jobs pay better than the lost jobs at the AOL call center. Government jobs in general tend to pay reasonably well, and that should make downtown Ogden look good compared to areas dominated by retail. And I'm sure that the jobs at Amer are good ones, though there aren't really enough of them (slightly over 100) to show up in the statistics. Manufacturing jobs at BDO should be good ones, but the mere warehousing jobs might not be. In South Ogden and Washington Terrace there will be plenty of good health professions jobs. In Davis County there will be plenty of good jobs associated with Hill AFB and the Freeport Center. How it all adds up for Ogden as a whole, or for entire counties, I wouldn't want to guess.

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