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How Utah will renew and reactivate its economy

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Utah has been recognized by the president’s coronavirus task force for doing things right. Under the leadership of Gov. Gary Herbert, Utah was among the first to create online resources for individuals, families and businesses. Utah was the first to establish an economic response task force and an economic recovery plan that balanced both the health and economic imperatives.

Utah’s guiding principle has been to proceed with data, recognizing the connection between public health and economic stability. Once we mitigate the effects of the virus we then can actively reinforce our economy. As chairman of the Governor’s Economic Response Task Force, I have seen how this collaborative approach sets the foundation for our next essential move: preparing for reactivating Utah’s economy.

Recognizing that returning Utah to its preeminent position as America’s leading economy is a matter of “when” not “if,” the economic task force introduced the Utah Leads Together Plan. The Plan is a dynamic data-driven document to guide us through the urgent phase of the crisis, toward stabilization, and on to recovery. We understand that timing is not fully within our control, but we also know that planning from the outset will allow us to more successfully capitalize on each phase. Now is the time to start planning for reactivating the economy so we can hit the ground running on an economic resurgence over the weeks ahead.

Reactivating the economy will come in gradual phases. It will vary based on locale, health of employees, industry sector, and the size and type of business. Economic activity will take place in phases like adjusting a dial rather than flipping a switch. The approach will not be business as usual but an orderly and cumulative process that will continue social distancing, using protective measures like masks, and emphasizing hygiene until we have better medical defenses against the virus.

Just as we took a layered approach to stem this virus and protect public safety, we can expect to take a layered approach in dialing up business with an appropriate return to work. Employers and employees, the public and private sectors, individuals and families will need to work in a spirit of collaboration and mutual support. To protect each other, we will need to continue testing those with symptoms, as well as those recommended for testing. We will need to consider population densities associated with transportation, work, special events and even recreation. Industry partnership with government will be necessary as we work together in stages.   

Government will need to address liability concerns for frontline workers and consumers so we deal fairly with everyone through this unprecedented process. Policymakers will need to address potential negligence claims and consider offering safe harbor to those companies that follow government health guidelines. The state will need to consider targeted stimulus to fill in the gaps that federal legislation does not cover. The operative goal should be to fashion policies that are considerate of our unique circumstances, yet recognize a balance between public-private obligations and consumer responsibility.  

Finally, as people begin to filter back into the workplace and society, it is important that we support those who cannot engage. High-risk populations and those with work that remains hindered should be able to count on lengthened unemployment insurance. We must encourage employer accommodation like continued telecommuting and adopting other innovative practices. Businesses that require high density gatherings and travel will need our support until society reaches larger scale immunity or medical advances obviate social distancing.

The Utah Economic Task Force pledges to be guided by data, science and a bias towards safety as we make recommendations to the governor and the public. Our top concern is to manage this transition safely to reactivate our economy, balancing public health with economic necessity. The upcoming release of the Utah Leads Together Plan 2.0 will provide a road map for Utahns to see the light at the end of the tunnel, inspire consumer confidence and set a vision for the economic renewal we all seek.

Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and chairman of the Governor’s Economic Response Task Force.