Utah Gov. Spencer Cox on Tuesday signed a pair of executive orders to promote community service among state employees and businesses that receive incentives through state programs.
The orders will provide two hours of administrative leave to each of the state's 24,000 employees to participate in service projects, and require that businesses provide at least 20 hours of similar leave per high-paying job each year to qualify for incentives through the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity.
Cox acknowledged that he's "preaching to the choir," announcing the initiatives ahead of a service project at the Granite Education Foundation in West Valley City.
"Here in Utah, we get this," he said. "It's part of our DNA; it's who we are. We have more volunteers per capita than anywhere else in the country."
But, he said, "I believe that in order to keep this as part of our DNA, we have to be very intentional about it." He compared service to a "muscle that you have to exercise."
"It's good for us, but sometimes we forget," the governor said.
The service requirement is intended to promote volunteerism as a "corporate value" for new and existing businesses, and Cox was joined by Kirk Aubry, president and CEO of Savage Services, a Midvale-based logistics company.
Aubry said the company is focused on providing service opportunities, which has been a benefit to both the community and its employees. He described what the company calls "full-contact philanthropy."
"We don't just write checks, we actually challenge our team members to get their hands dirty, roll up their sleeves to get out in the community and help our neighbors in need," he said.
"It makes for a better work environment," Cox said, pointing to Savage as an example he hopes to help other businesses follow — if they aren't already.
After introducing the executive orders, Cox was joined by first lady Abby Cox, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and about 75 cabinet members and senior staffers who helped compile school supplies for students in the Granite School District.
Roughly 47% of students in the district of nearly 60,000 qualify for free and reduced lunch, according to Sean Neal, chief development officer with the Granite Education Fund.
As part of the service project, Cox joined several state employees in packing nonperishable food items into gallon bags, which will be given to needy students on Friday afternoons to ensure they have a few meals to eat over the weekend.
"What we love about them is they're light and they're compact," Neal said. "We can put them in a backpack and protect the kids' dignity, so we don't label a kid as being a kid in need."
Henderson joined a separate group of volunteers in filling backpacks with pencils, erasers and notebooks to give to children at the beginning of the next school year. The foundation gave out nearly 16,000 such backpacks last year, Neal said.
Other volunteers helped compile "Santa sacks" with blankets and other gifts, which Neal said go to children and families in need of holiday assistance, as well as refugee families.
"It's a great way to introduce them to the way we celebrate holidays ... and help their kids feel like they're a part of their peer group," he said. "It kind of breaks down some of those barriers that exist there."