WASHINGTON - Arizona is expected to post the second-highest rate of job growth among states in 2014, trailing only booming North Dakota, according to a recent report.
The U.S. Regional Outlook 2014 by Moody's Analytics predicts Arizona will see a 3.1 percent increase in jobs this year, compared to a national average of just under 1.9 percent. North Dakota's outlook leads all states at 3.6 percent job growth.
Economists said the higher growth rate is a return to the norm for Arizona, which routinely ranked among the top states before being hammered in the recession.
"If you were to look at states over the last 30 or 40 years, you would typically find Arizona among the top - certainly among the top 10, and typically among the top three, four, five," said Lee McPheters, a research professor at Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business.
"So it's not unusual for Arizona to be one of the leading growth states," said McPheters, who said the state has averaged 4 percent job growth over the last 30 to 40 years.
Moody's Analytics generates job growth forecasts each month, using a model that accounts for numerous economic factors including state population growth, business-sector growth trends and proprietary information.
Daniel Culbertson, an economist with Moody's Analytics, said Arizona's strong job growth in the latest report is "nothing out of the ordinary."
"Arizona is still going to outpace the U.S., as it has the last two years," he said, adding that it has a lot to gain from the economic recovery because of its diversified economy.
Arizona's strengths lie in the finance, health care and retail sectors, McPheters said.
These observations were echoed by Sapna Gupta, senior policy analyst at ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy. She said more hiring in the construction industry - both residential and commercial - and in health care fields will continue to provide Arizona with an edge in job growth.
"(Arizona's) expected job growth in 2014 will certainly get a boost thanks to high-tech companies like Apple opening a plant in Mesa," Gupta said in an email. "But the high-tech sector does not account for the entire projected job growth. Other sectors of the economy have also been picking up steam, which has led to more hiring."
McPheters said the recession had hit Arizona harder than the U.S. as a whole, noting that "the U.S. lost about 6 percent of all jobs while Arizona lost about 12 percent." Now that the state is in "recovery mode" the job growth figures should be returning to normal, he said.
Culbertson said Arizona is likely to see its job growth forecast drop slightly in the next Moody's report, due in March, because of less-than-anticipated population growth. But Arizona will still be among the top states in 2014, he said.
McPheters agreed that Arizona will likely be near the top, but wondered if it would end up as No. 2 for the year given gains in some other states.
"The big question is: Would that be enough to put Arizona in the 2 position?" he said.
"I'm just not 100 percent sure that Arizona would beat" states such as Florida and Texas.