Utah has become the New England Patriots of economic development victories. The recognition heaped upon the state is almost an embarrassment of riches, almost. From the depths of the Great Recession to the top of the economic mountain, Utah’s ascendency is the story of the decade.
The accolades and rankings are too numerous to list, but a recent sampling is illustrative. Over the past 10 years Utah has been named the “Best State for Business” by Forbes magazine more times than any other state, six to be exact. And Utah finished on the podium all 10 years, the only state to earn no less than a third-place finish.
Utah was highlighted just a few days ago by Fox Business as the state with the best economic outlook. And a few days before that the Wall Street Journal highlighted Utah as “America’s Economic Star,” noting the secret to the state’s success is a simple strategy of staying focused on encouraging business development and job creation.
What Forbes and The Wall Street Journal understand is that the best way to provide opportunity, support individuals and families, and pay for all the things the public expects of government is to grow the economy. It is called free enterprise and it works. Utah is the proof.
In addition to being the best place for business, fastest job creation, most diverse economy and brightest economic outlook, Utah is also the place with the best upward mobility, highest rate of volunteerism and ranks as one of healthiest and happiest states. Combined with an unmatched quality of life and you have, to sum it all up in a single word: prosperity.
And what a prosperous decade it has been. So let’s stop briefly to enjoy the moment, and then do what Utahns do best and drive on. Most importantly, let’s ‘drive on’ with a focus on how we can maintain this prosperity for the decades to come.
Let’s continue to focus on efforts to enhance community prosperity through continuous regulatory reform, avoidance of overtaxation and providing assistance to those rural communities that are struggling with increasing unemployment and decreasing population.
Let’s invest in education by increasing per pupil funding so we can recruit the best teachers and improve student achievement. The correlation between education, talented workforce and economic prosperity is direct and powerful. The subjects taught in our schools is also critically important with a focus on STEM for every student and computer science in every classroom.
Let’s keep an eye on the challenges that come with being one of the nation’s fastest growing states. Projections show population growth trends will bring another 1.5 million Utahns in the next two decades. This growth will change all major industries. It will also strain infrastructure and the environment. The business community will need workplace programs to address employees’ needs in the areas of diversity, mental health, child care and the gender wage gap.
Governments, both local and state, will need sound policies to tackle the growing housing affordability crisis, increasing homelessness, multi-modal mobility and environmental stewardship.
The economy will always ebb and flow and Utah will never be immune from national and global trends. But the need to nurture prosperity is constant and enduring. With Utah at the summit and the competition getting ever stronger, let’s stay focused on staying on top.
Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.