Economic development leaders say two things are essential to keep Utah’s economy humming: excellent infrastructure and an excellent workforce (which requires quality education). Utah leaders are seeking to bolster Utah’s economic muscle by promoting two huge infrastructure projects and by boosting education funding. Our thoughts:
The inland port in Salt Lake City’s Northwest Quadrant is being touted as a game-changing project with unlimited potential. Will it survive the many political landmines and live up to expectations?
Pignanelli: “Political work is the life-blood of all economic work.” — Mao Zedong
Family reunions seem easy, but are usually plagued with internal contention and challenges such as weather, dietary problems and irascible relatives (Italian Irish gatherings always include alcohol, guaranteeing even more fun and fights). Strong leadership is appreciated, but participants want individual needs satisfied. Development of the inland port shares the dynamics of organizing a large Utah family assembly, and the resulting controversies are being resolved in a very public manner.
The proposed project will play an important component for economic development in mid-21st-century Utah. Access to global markets is an incredible incentive for potential manufacturing industries and an excellent source of high-wage jobs. Further, impacted businesses and families can be located off the Wasatch Front — an imperative because the valleys are filling.
A prosperous port depends on a governmental oversight that is viewed as fair to all, sensitive to a variety of concerns including ecological, transparent in operation and responsive to technology innovations which we cannot contemplate as of yet.
Successful reunion organizers are perceptive to modern trends and expand the traditional menu (i.e. potato salad) to include current favorites (kale). Inland port sponsors will need to follow a similar recipe.
Webb: I like politicians who think big. Utah’s political and business leaders deserve praise for their expansive vision for the future as they promote these big development projects. It is natural that political disagreements would flare up, especially between the state and Salt Lake City over control of the inland port.
Thankfully, reasonable people, including the governor, state legislators and city council members, are working in good faith to reach sensible agreements. A special session or action in the 2019 session will be necessary to update the inland port legislation to take into account the city’s concerns and clean up other language.
The inland port will produce thousands of jobs and a big economic boost. It should go forward as rapidly as possible.
Another project with massive potential is development of state property and surrounding open land at the Point of the Mountain to create a high-tech hub at the heart of the burgeoning Silicon Slopes corridor. Can planners conquer daunting transportation congestion problems to create a world-class technology mecca?
Pignanelli: The Legislature conducted an exhaustive statewide process allowing citizen input regarding moving the state prison and opening this unique and valuable property. Thus, most controversy was eliminated.
Utah should not transfer the area to private or local government entities. Instead the "Research Park” model should be implemented wherein the state leases ground to high-tech and other innovative businesses. Similar scenarios succeed in Utah and other states, especially spinning off new businesses.
Webb: With 600 acres (the current state prison site) in the midst of some of the most valuable and ideally located land in Utah, state government can anchor a model mixed-use development with business offices, retail stores, entertainment offerings, diverse residential choices and open space — connected with futuristic transportation options. There is talk of having a significant higher education presence or even a national laboratory (better get Orrin Hatch’s help on that before he leaves office).
This area is going to rapidly develop anyway, so it makes sense to approach it with a planned vision. The biggest challenge is mobility. The Point of the Mountain is already a transportation bottleneck, and it’s only going to get worse. It will be an immense test of urban planners’ ingenuity and innovation to keep people and commerce flowing as tens of thousands more people locate in or pass through an already-choked corridor.
Our Schools Now seeks to bolster Utah’s workforce with education improvements and increased funding. The group made a deal with the Legislature, part of which depends on voters supporting a non-binding proposal to boost fuel taxes. Ten years from now, will Our Schools Now have made a difference?
Pignanelli: Our Schools Now may not be remembered for money that was infused into public education, but rather the initiative to raise taxes. Their efforts, and the reactions of legislators to negotiate with them, set a precedent for the next several decades.
Webb: A remarkable fact is that Our Schools Now is led by practical business leaders, not by education professionals. People like Gail Miller, Scott Anderson, Nolan Karras and Bob Marquardt have been tenaciously seeking education improvement. Their single-minded focus is on Utah’s young people, preparing them for the high-tech jobs of the future.
This effort will pay off long-term. Voters can help Utah’s children by supporting the fuel tax proposal, which through funding shuffles will put a lot more money directly into local schools.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: email@example.com.