By Brice Wallace
Don’t look for Gov. Gary Herbert in “The Happiest Place On Earth” anytime soon.
At the 11th annual Utah Economic Summit, Herbert cautioned that while Utah has had “remarkable economic success,” it nonetheless faces several challenges, and Utahns need to avoid the urge to celebrate by “going to Disneyland.”
“As we look to the challenges ahead, let’s not lose sight or perspective,” he told the crowd of about 1,000. “There are 49 other states in America that would love to be in Utah’s position. Over the past seven years, Utah has emerged from the Great Recession and become the best place in America for business. We are the gold standard that other states are seeking to emulate.
“The question for us is, where do we go from here? Utah is on top. We’re No. 1. We’ve won the national championship. And some of us might be tempted to say, like the old commercial used to say, ‘Well, hey, what are you going to do? … Let’s go to Disneyland!’ I submit that while we are in first place and have won the national championship metaphorically, we should never for a second think that we’ve arrived at our destination.”
Herbert said Utah’s economic competition is “keen and it is getting keener.”
“So let’s leave a trip to Disneyland for some other day. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Let’s be humble and grateful for the success that Utah’s having, but let’s also recognize that we have challenges ahead and what’s truly important is not what we are today or where we are today, but where we want to be tomorrow.”
Among the challenges are population growth that could complicate the state’s efforts to improve air quality, result in more traffic congestion and put more students into the state’s education system. The state also needs to address the needs of rural Utah, which Herbert said has some areas that are “dragging behind.” He has issued a goal of creating 25,000 new jobs in rural Utah during the next four years.
Utah also faces the normal up-and-down economic cycles. “I’m here to submit to you today that if we work together, we can minimize any downtime and emphasize the opportunities that we have here,” he said. “If we continue what we’re doing — in spite of what may happen out of Washington, D.C. — I’m confident we can have a healthy, growing, expanding economy.”
Utah, he said, has the nation’s strongest economy, fourth-most-diverse economy, a growing technology sector, upward mobility that is “alive,” the largest middle class in the nation, great quality of life, a great workforce growing in all sectors except state government, tremendous public lands that have seen visitation to its parks continue to grow, and received numerous accolades extolling the virtues of the state.
“I trust that you can see that in Utah, opportunity knocks a bit more often than in other parts of the country, and success really comes to those who are willing to open the door of opportunity and are prepared to work hard and apply themselves,” Herbert said.
“No, business and investment success in Utah is not a guarantee, but the odds of being successful in starting a new business and increasing your bottom line and market share are demonstrably better in Utah than anywhere else. The reason Utah is such a good bet is simple: We have created a very fertile environment for the business entrepreneur to be willing to invest capital and then reap the rewards that come with creating success.”
And that success leads to employees being able to live “the American Dream,” and some will start their own businesses and create jobs for others. “Thus the cycle continues,” he said.
During the summit, Herbert unveiled the “Utah Business Promise.” Spelled out on cards distributed to attendees, the promise’s vision is that “Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and will be recognized as the premier global business environment and tourist destination.” The promise, it says, is “a commitment to a business-friendly environment and high quality of life. These fundamental principles set Utah apart and serve s a foundation for our economic success.”
“The ideas that stand behind this promise are not new, but the promise serves as a clear reaffirmation of our commitment to a business-friendly environment and a high quality of life in Utah,” Herbert said.
He asked attendees to keep the cards with them and to alert him if the state is not doing what it should or if it could do things better.
“The Utah Business Promise says to businesses the world over that if you want to grow, improve your bottom line or expand your market share, it isn’t just a nice idea to be in Utah,” he said. “You, in fact, need to be in Utah.”
The “business environment” elements of the Utah Business Promise are:
• Strong, diversified economy.
• Business-friendly environment that supports capitalism and free enterprise.
• Affordable, resilient and diverse energy sources.
• Competitive tax rates.
• Efficient and effective regulation.
• Strong entrepreneurial spirit.
• Accessibility to government decision makers in a transparent environment.
• Quality, educated workforce.
• More than 120 languages spoken by employees.
The “quality of life” elements of the promise are:
• Affordable housing and cost of living.
• Effective transportation infrastructure (such as major interstate freeways, Salt Lake City International Airport, rail lines and bus systems).
• Year-round outdoor recreation opportunities (such as five national parks, 43 state parks, world-class ski resorts, spectacular mountains and red rock adventures).
• World-renown arts and cultural events.
• Strong K-12 public education system and higher education featuring top-notch universities and colleges statewide.
• High quality and low cost of healthcare.