Former Gov. Gary Herbert may have passed the mantle for leading the Beehive State, but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to take a break from public service.
“What do you do as a sequel? I’m not one to kind of just sit and rest on my laurels. My father taught me that a man’s got to have a reason to get up in the morning, to do something to give back, serve. Service is the rent you pay for the place you occupy,” Herbert said Thursday.
He plans to use the knowledge and connections gained from his years in state government — and from his years in general (he turns 74 on Friday) — to help unite Utah County’s business community as the new executive chairman of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, he told reporters at the chamber office in Provo.
Herbert served as governor of Utah for nearly 12 years. Before that, he was lieutenant governor under Jon Huntsman Jr. and a Utah County commissioner.
Curtis Blair, president and CEO of the chamber, explained that during the pandemic last year — and as chamber leaders were exploring how to get through that difficult time — they wondered, “What does a former governor do?’”
“And Gary Herbert has a track record of tremendous success with growing a business and finding common ground for different voices to come together to create solutions for education, workforce development, transportation, natural resources. I mean, all of the work that he’s done, we thought, ‘I wonder if he’d be interested in focusing that on Utah County?’” Blair said.
The chamber hopes to build partnerships with other chambers in the valley, as well as more public and private partnerships, with Herbert’s help.
Last fall, Herbert was “intrigued” by the proposal, even as he had offers from dozens of other organizations, Blair recalled.
“I do have 30 plus years of experience as an elected official — in fact, 30 years, six months and five days to be exact. And I’ve been involved in the private sector all my life. I’ve always had my own business. I’ve started four different businesses, and so I understand that challenge,” Herbert said.
He said both small and large businesses face many of the same difficulties, including government regulations “sometimes getting in your way,” trying to become profitable, and finding employees willing to put in the work to help make a business successful.
“And I’ve met a lot of people on the way, and so I know a lot of people in the business community,” Herbert said, adding that he was raised understanding the importance of chambers of commerce, as his dad ran the Orem Chamber of Commerce.
Herbert also noted his connections with business leaders throughout the state.
“It allows us to probably have better collaboration and cooperation, in fact what I call ‘coopetition.’ We’re going to have some competition, but we’re going to cooperate in how we do that. That’s good for the state of Utah; it’s good for Utah Valley, which is the fastest growing part of our state,” he said.
Utah has also recently seen division in politics, which took center stage when U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, and Gov. Spencer Cox received boos and obvious disapproval at moments from some in attendance at the Utah Republican Party’s Organizing Convention last weekend.
When asked for his thoughts on the apparent discord in the party, Herbert said: “I’m very passionate about politics and policy, and I love Utah and I love our people. And I love what we stand for, and you can get pretty enthusiastic about that.”
However, he said, “that enthusiasm needs to be restrained so you don’t become rude or haughty or contemptible.”
Although he says he is “right of center conservative,” Herbert noted that he sought to stay “moderate in tone” and work together with those of other beliefs.
“I think we make a big mistake thinking we’re going to convince people to believe my way if you’re rude and treat them with contempt because they have a different opinion, or treat them as the enemy,” Herbert said.
He said he fears the Republican Party will “shrink” if the divisiveness continues. But unifying the party will lead to more election wins, especially nationally.
Utah is seen as one of the best places to live, but the business community “doesn’t like to see the infighting,” he said.
“People want to feel welcome, they want to feel a part of the family.”
Along with the newly established Herbert Institute of Policy at Utah Valley University, he noted that his new role is an opportunity to “give back” and help the rising generation prepare for the future.
Herbert described life after being governor as “a great unknown.”
“And I enjoyed being an elected official, I enjoyed the service. And I feel very humbled and grateful for the great success we had,” Herbert said.
Each of his six children and 17 grandchildren live in Utah Valley, he noted. Working for the chamber allows him to stay in Orem, where he grew up and has long called home.