Utahns are becoming so familiar with their state being ranked high on national lists that it may be easy for them to forget. Nice places to live do not spontaneously generate. Neither do prosperous places. They require intentional leadership. And the good things can be lost unless we’re careful.

The latest to laud Utah was U.S. News and World Report. After studying more than 70 metrics and thousands of data points, its researchers recently chose Utah as the best state in the nation.


This was the second year in a row that the Beehive State was given this honor. The publication ranked the state in the top 20 on 7 of 8 categories. It came in second in “education,” third in “economy” and third in “infrastructure.”

A pessimist might note that Utah’s third-place for economy slipped a bit from first. But then, that person may not be so much a pessimist as someone who wisely focuses on ways the state can improve.

On that subject, the state’s lowest rankings were in “opportunity” (18th) and “natural environment” (46th). The environment score has to do with the lack of initiatives related to air pollution and public health.

Anyone who understands northern Utah’s unique geography knows how high pressure systems can lock valleys into stagnant inversions, in which trapped air collects fine-particulate pollutants that have nowhere to escape.

Report: Northern Utah has some of the country’s worst ozone, particulate pollution

These events are beyond human control. However, humans could do more to control the buildup of pollutants. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality says, “Better understanding of the mechanisms that drive these pollution episodes” is needed in order to develop more effective strategies. We agree.

The state’s opportunity score includes the need for greater equality in terms of pay and opportunities for people of varying demographics and gaps between pay for men and women. On the last item, Utah ranks 49th.

It also includes affordability, especially housing. These are multifaceted and vexing issues over which governments have limited direct control.

Utah has long had a shortage of housing units, which has helped to push prices upward. Zillow reports that Salt Lake City’s average home price is now $560,696, a 2.1% hike over a year ago. Salt Lake County’s average price is $556,138, a 2.2% jump year over year. Utah County’s average is not far behind at $536,602, and Park City sits at a whopping $1,601,701.

Utah tops both the most and least affordable home ownership lists

Last fall, a legislative audit said “time is running short” to fix this problem. It called for a statewide strategic plan — one that focuses on more high-density housing. The document said the state needs about 28,000 new housing units per year to keep pace with growth.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers, in cooperation with Gov. Spencer Cox, passed a series of measures to deal with this. These include $300 million to help banks and credit unions offer low-interest loans to entice developers to build more affordable homes. A developer must provide at least 60% of a project’s units for under $450,000 in order to qualify.

Other bills incentivized the building of modular homes, adopting a code that helps cities allow these under existing zoning laws.

Perhaps no problem has the potential to move Utah off the top of many lists more than housing affordability. If the state’s children can’t afford to live in Utah, and if a persistent shortage makes it impossible to find housing, the economy will begin to stall.

Meanwhile, U.S. News and World Report recognized one ingredient for success that may be Utah’s secret weapon.

“The people are extremely nice,” said Ben Blau, who heads Utah State University’s Department of Economics and Finance at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business. He is not the first to notice this.

We would add another factor — they’re innovative. Utahns had barely heard about the No. 1 ranking from the magazine when Eton Venture Services proclaimed Utah seventh in the nation for new business applications. And don’t forget it’s the state that leads out in volunteerism.

Economic forces tend to ebb and flow. Sometimes, weather events, decisions out of Washington or other forces affect things in ways that are beyond human control. But nothing can beat intentional leadership that fosters economic growth and prosperity in steady and predictable ways. And nothing can beat a population that approaches problems with optimism and energy.

Utahns should recognize and be grateful for these factors, while demanding that the state’s persistent problems are tackled in strategic and effective ways. That’s how to keep the good times rolling.