Utah government and business leaders united at a Friday gathering to celebrate the state’s high-flying economy, including a plaudit earlier this week from The Wall Street Journal that named the Salt Lake metropolitan area the country’s top spot for jobs, but also cautioned that rising challenges must be addressed to keep the mojo rising.

At the One Utah Summit held in downtown Salt Lake City, the event formerly branded as the Governor’s Economic Summit, Natalie Gochnour, associate dean for the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, gave her annual rundown of the state’s economic highs and lows for the past year and some things to keep an eye on in the days ahead.

A bumpy road ahead?

Gochnour noted that while Utah’s economic growth has been following a yearslong trend outpacing the national average, the last few months have seen those tracking lines converge and Utah has been knocked from its perch as the nation’s growth leader, now finding itself trailing six other states on that metric. And two of the job sectors that once represented bragging points for Utah, high tech and financial services, have seen negative momentum in recent reports.

Gochnour said Utah’s population growth, and a change in dynamics when it comes to how that growth is fueled, has put extra strain across a number of critical areas including congestion, air quality and, perhaps most significantly, housing prices. Utah, she said, has come out on the positive side of net migration in 32 of the past 33 years, adding 650,000 new residents. And the housing needs of those newcomers have helped tip the market into a supply deficit, and resultant price surges.

The ‘New Utah’: Bigger, more diverse and economically mighty but facing unprecedented challenges

Gov. Spencer Cox shared his own concerns about the current state of the housing industry in Utah.

“The single greatest threat to our people is the untenable price of attainable housing,” he said. “If you can’t afford to live here, you’re not going to start a business here.”

The state of startups

There are also plenty of positives, including the state’s nation-leading job participation rate, healthy wage growth and an economic expansion that, while it may have cooled off, is still running well into positive territory.

The state is also tops in the nation when it comes to best places to start a business, according to Utah’s entrepreneur-in-residence Brad Bonham.

Bonham, a veteran entrepreneur and business educator, said those who launch their business enterprises in Utah are 70% more likely to build those endeavors to the vaunted “unicorn” status, a term coined by the tech industry for companies that reach the $1 billion valuation level. He also touted the debut of the Startup State Initiative and associated website that provides a step-by-step guide, along with a slew of resources, for those looking to start a business in Utah.

Utah consumer confidence fell slightly in March

Salt Lake Chamber president and CEO Derek Miller said the same formula that helped Utah achieve its current high performance economy will help it navigate the growing pains that have accompanied success: planning, foresight and ingenuity in the private sector.

“Private sector innovation along with public sector support, that will unleash the power of free enterprise,” he said.

Business ‘Jeopardy’

Virginia Pearce, director of the Utah Film Commission, touched on the state’s historic, and ongoing, success as a destination venue for filmmakers looking for unique landscapes and local talent while representatives of some of Utah’s emerging industries gathered for a round of custom-themed “Jeopardy.”

Some answers, and subsequent correct questions, from the ad-lib competition:

Answer: “This university had the first ARPANET node outside of California.”

Question: “What is the University of Utah?”

Answer: “These three states have the highest density of life sciences employees.”

Question: “What are Massachusetts, New Jersey and Utah?”

Answer: “At $780 million, this was the largest exit for a life science company in Utah.”

Question: “What is Tolero Pharmaceuticals?”

Answer: “This person became known as the ‘father of computer graphics’ while at the University of Utah.”

Question: “Who is Evan Sutherland?”

Answer: “Over the next decade, more of Utah’s economy will be shaped by these four industry segments at an accelerated pace.”

Question: “What are aerospace, defense, cybersecurity and space exploration?”