On a weekly basis I have the opportunity to speak with business leaders from around the country. As I hear about their challenges with job-killing overregulation, high taxes and the lack of comprehension of basic economic principles by some elected officials, I come away from those interactions grateful to live in Utah.
A few numbers to make the point. Utah ranks near the best in the nation for unemployment at 2.6%, half the national average. For job growth, Utah is also at the top with 3.8% this year and 3.5% over the past two years, one of only three states showing positive job change.
Upward mobility is better in Utah than anywhere else, and according to the new 2021 Annual Report on Intergenerational Poverty, Utah consistently ranks lower than the U.S. average and is moving in the right direction. These are more than numbers. They relate directly to people and opportunity.
The Milken Institute recently highlighted five Utah communities in their report “Best-Performing Cities 2021.” Provo-Orem topped the list of large cities, with Salt Lake City ranking fourth, and Ogden-Clearfield ninth. St. George and Logan ranked in the top five for small cities. These rankings took into account job creation, wage gains and high tech growth.
This success does not happen by accident. The law of the harvest tells us that you cannot reap a crop you do not sow. As Utahns enjoy the fruits of their labor in a strong economy, we would do well to thank our legislators for creating fertile soil for Utah entrepreneurs and business owners to sow their economic seeds.
The crop that thousands of Utah businesses have reaped can be measured in billions of dollars and thousands of jobs, but the impact for good on individuals and families can never be quantified.
One of the most important ways legislators create fertile soil is a low cost of doing business that results from low and, equally important, stable taxes, with a tax rate that has not increased in decades. Legislators are able to keep taxes low because they are fiscally prudent, fighting the ever-present pressure to grow government and borrow from future generations to pay for current expenses.
The cost of doing business in Utah is also low because legislators avoid burdensome regulations and mandates. Instead of passing laws that kill jobs, legislators are creating programs to help grow jobs like workforce skills training and a “regulatory sandbox” that creates a process by which businesses can more effectively provide input on overburdensome regulation.
It should not surprise us that Utah legislators are focused on laws that enhance opportunity and spur job growth, because as part-time legislators that have full-time jobs, they have to live with the laws they pass. Having a legislature that is sensitive to and not alienated from those laws cannot be overstated.
Legislators deserve special thanks for their work dealing with the impacts of COVID-19. The Wall Street Journal recognized the Salt Lake metro area for achieving the greatest expansion of jobs during the pandemic. While some states positioned the imperatives of public health and the economy as mutually exclusive, our legislative leaders rejected that notion and instead sought a balance of protecting lives and livelihoods.
Perfection in that balance — like in anything else — is impossible, but the evidence of success is found in the data that through the pandemic Utah had one of the lowest mortality rates and the highest job growth rate of any state in the nation.
To maintain Utah’s economic opportunity and upward mobility, we must understand what is working and why.
Is there room for improvement? The business concept of continuous improvement tells us there always will be. In fact, it is the strength of Utah’s fundamentals that allows us to focus on incremental improvement. The business concept of “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” is also instructive as we work to build upon our proven strengths.
The message we can share with companies and individuals considering Utah as a new home is one with a first-rate business environment and unsurpassed quality of life. Let’s stay focused on the fundamentals, build upon our strengths, leverage all the things going right and give credit to our legislators who helped create this dynamic environment where opportunity abounds.
Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.