By Lecia Parks Langston, Senior Economist
"The smallest company in the world can look as large as the largest company on the web.”
Major employers certainly play a major role in the Utah economy. While employers with 1,000 or more employees account for only 0.2% of firms, they employ a whopping 34% of the state’s workers. In general, bigger firms—particularly in the private sector—pay higher-than-average wages and are more stable during an economic downturn. Large firms are, however, less likely to employ the very young or the very old. (See our blog post on the demographics of firm size here.)
Each year, the Utah Department of Workforce Services produces a list of the state’s largest employers based on average employment during the previous year. If an employer utilizes multiple worksites, all statewide employment is rolled into one. We also generate lists for each individual county. There, if a statewide employer has a worksite in an individual county, only that county’s worksite will be listed on that county’s list. You can see individual lists by selecting the appropriate area in the following visualization.
Just who were Utah’s largest employers in 2020? Topping the list are the University of Utah (including the hospital), Intermountain Healthcare, the State of Utah and Wal-Mart, with more than 20,000 workers each. These topmost firms are reflections of other employers on the “largest” list. Big firms are often found in the education, healthcare or government sectors.
Large retailers and financial operations also find themselves towards the list’s upper tier. Along with Wal-Mart, these industries include Smith’s Food and Drug, Amazon.com, Home Depot, Zions Bancorporation, Discover Products, Costco, American First Credit Union, Harmons and Wells Fargo Bank.
Transportation firms such as the Postal Service, United Parcel Service, Delta Airlines and the Utah Transit Authority also rank among the upper echelon of major employers. Other non-education, non-government firms rising to the top include ARUP Laboratories, Vivint and Autoliv.
The One with COVID-19
Of course, 2020 was an unusual year in almost every sense of the word, and the pandemic’s economic thrivers and divers are reflected in changes in the rankings, particularly for smaller counties where large employers are found in the leisure/hospitality industry; an economic diver. Statewide, Home Depot moved up in the rankings as home-improvement projects proliferated during lockdown. Conversely, the manufacturers hard hit by supply chain difficulties often slid down in the rankings. Firms involved in transporting people also may have lost ground in the standings while those involved in delivering goods ticked up a notch.
In less populated counties, businesses that could easily provide drive-up or curb-side food service flourished while full-service restaurants often found themselves slipping in the rankings.
The Urban/Rural Divide
Not surprisingly, densely populated counties show patterns similar to the statewide rankings. Universities, school districts, government and healthcare entities are often among the largest employers—along with a smattering of unique major employers.
For many less populated counties, school districts are positioned as the entity with the most employees. Here too, colleges and universities (if located in the area) play a major role. Smaller counties occasionally pop up with an unusual largest employer. For example, in Beaver County, Smithfield Hog Production claims the top-employer spot. In Kane County, Best Friends Animal Shelter ranks number one. Autoliv tops Box Elder County’s list. In tourism-heavy Garfield and Summit counties, Ruby’s Inn and Deer Valley Resort employ the most workers, respectively.
Regardless of area or industry, large employers remain vital economic contributors. How an area’s economy behaves often reflects the characteristics of those firms. We hope you’ll take a moment to explore Utah’s largest employers with an eye towards greater understanding.