Utah has made a name for itself on the national economic stage because of our successful navigation of the Great Recession. Now it’s time to do the same on a global scale.
In 2009, as the national economy spiraled headlong into the economic downturn, Utahns could see the financial tsunami headed toward our state. And sure enough, Utah was not immune from the havoc wreaked by the perfect storm of overspending and over-leveraging by individuals, businesses and government. The dramatic impact of the Great Recession was felt at its worst in homes across the entire state.
Within this setting, Gov. Herbert convened a meeting of business and community leaders to discuss how to deal with swelling unemployment and stagnating job growth. That meeting was the genesis of what stands today as the governor’s vision statement that “Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premier global business destination.” This statement is bold even in the best of times, but given skyrocketing unemployment and stagnating job growth, the statement could have reasonably been viewed as hallucinogenic. In fact, I remember one participant asking dubiously, “Can we really say Utah will be the best performing economy?!”
Ultimately, this group decided to recommend to the governor the aspirational goal to indeed be the “best” and began to set the strategy to make that vision a reality. A critical part of the plan was based on a simple concept that any business would follow in a contracting market — to grow our economy by growing our market share. For Utah that meant recruiting more business to the state. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development, in partnership with the Economic Development Corporation of Utah and local economic development professionals, began an aggressive and focused effort to convince companies that Utah was the right place for business expansion and relocation.
And along the way, we discovered an unanticipated consequence to the national economic downturn. Companies were focused like never before on the bottom line, and they were considering things they had never considered before — things like moving to a small state in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. For companies focused on productive employees, access to markets, cost of business and quality of life — companies like Boeing, Proctor & Gamble, Adobe, Goldman Sachs, Disney, etc. — Utah became (borrowing a line from Gov. Herbert) “an island of tranquility in a sea of economic chaos.” The foundation of this “island” is built on simple principles that every individual and family understands: Live within your means, don't spend more than you have, low and stable taxes, and reasonable and predictable regulations.
And it wasn't just new companies moving to Utah that helped our state add jobs during the recession. Many local Utah companies continued to grow and expand — companies like ATK, Overstock.com, Vivint, IMFlash, and Lifetime Products, just to name a few. Across the state, the entrepreneurial spirit continues to thrive and create new companies and new jobs each year.
In addition to setting a vision for the state, the governor also established the goal for the private sector to add “100,000 jobs in 1,000 days.” Last week marked the end of those 1,000 days, which was celebrated by the announcement that more than 112,000 jobs were created. Most meaningful is that each number represents a person and a family that has the self-sufficiency, self respect, opportunities and quality of life that come from having a job.
Utah’s current unemployment rate of 3.5 percent and job growth rate of 3.6 percent puts us in the top three for states across the nation in both categories. The secret to Utah’s success is really no “secret” at all — it is simply an adherence to proven principles of economic growth. Our success, despite the recession, put Utah on the map as we burnished our reputation nationally. As other states return to these principles, the competition to be the “best” is getting stiffer. The way to stay at the top, and to continue to grow our economy and add jobs, is to now look beyond our borders, to grow our international business, and for Utah to “go global.”
Derek B. Miller is the president & CEO of the World Trade Center Utah. Previously he was chief of staff to Gov. Gary Herbert and managing director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.