Utah has led the nation in population growth for the past decade. Its population grew from 2.8 million to 3.3 million – an impressive jump of 18.4%, with growth surpassing Texas, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina and many other states known for their job opportunities and attractive lifestyles.
Utah’s population also has the nation’s youngest median age at 30.5 and its highest average household size of 3.19.
As impressive as Utah’s past decade has been, there are plenty of signs that Utah’s best days are ahead. But growth brings challenges. We shouldn’t praise growth for growth’s sake. We should seek sustainable growth, where the state’s infrastructure, schools, environment, and housing can support its growing population. We believe the next decade holds even more opportunity and promise for the Hive State if we focus on the things that matter most. We’ve listed 10 things Utah can do to ensure and sustain its growth for years to come.
1. Foster a stable, business-friendly environment that attracts employers from out of state. Excessive zoning laws and regulations have prompted West Coast-based businesses to explore growth elsewhere. Utah should compete aggressively for expanding coastal employer growth.
Therefore, Utah must think creatively about how to promote attractive real estate and tax options for employers that also protect the collective best interests of our residents. Employers not only care about zoning laws and regulations, but they also care about access to labor supply, suppliers and customers.
Labor supply determines employer location choice – companies don’t locate in Silicon Valley or New York due to the low cost of living. These markets offer an attractive workforce. Utah’s young, educated Millennials and Gen Z workforce will work in its favor. It is in Utah’s interest to make this state attractive for them to stay.
2. Develop a real high-tech industrial cluster. Clusters of interconnected businesses in similar fields help improve learning and promote growth and job creation. North Carolina’s Research Triangle is a family market located among major research universities – a setting no different from the valleys of Salt Lake and Utah.
This region has built a cleantech cluster supported by local businesses, government, academic and non-profit leaders. They aspire to accelerate cleantech innovation and grow the cleantech economy. In Utah, major healthcare, high-tech, and fintech companies are showing up in spades. Fintech has flourished in Utah in part due to the strong supply of entrepreneurs and investment funds.
Fintech will be particularly important for post-pandemic recovery and consumer access to capital needs. Utah policymakers — including those in the Office of Economic Development and the Utah Chamber of Commerce — should actively support Salt Lake’s efforts to become one of the top tech clusters in the United States.
As our Utah public and private sector leaders promote conferences and degree programs in technology and healthcare, we believe Utah can cement a differentiated and enduring competitive advantage that will create increased economic activity and local employment growth.
3. Build adequate transport and infrastructure. Habitability in the Wasatch requires dealing with traffic jams and traffic jams. Adequate infrastructure will support greater economic productivity, greater tourism and additional conventions that will bring needed commercial activity.
More importantly, investments in infrastructure will improve the quality of life. We can and should apply market principles to meet the infrastructure needs of our public transport system.
4. Ensure that our universities continue to produce a high number of relevant degrees. Employers considering investing in Utah want to know how many universities and colleges in our state produce relevant degrees and how many students receive those degrees. We hope that leading Utah universities will find ways to maintain accreditations for key programs without compromising their mission and beliefs.
5. Invest heavily in K-12 computer literacy. Local investment in K-12 computer science programs will create a more attractive labor base for employers to locate here. Leading employers often ask what the K-12 learning environment is like before hiring a talent pool in a market.
6. Encourage clean air. Wildfire smoke invaded our Wasatch area last summer and is a growing problem. Low water levels in the Great Salt Lake can expose the lake bed and cause dust to fill the air we breathe. Ozone levels are of concern. Nearly 50% of all the pollution in the valley comes from our cars. We should encourage electric car charging networks and support Utah cities that want to achieve net zero emissions.
These are efforts that our Utah delegation can and should play a leading role in addressing. Rocky Mountain Power, with the support of Representative Blake Moore, has secured federal funding to create connected communities in Utah through smart, energy-efficient buildings.
7. Invest in the arts. Millennials take advantage of cultural amenities and are less inclined to live in the suburbs. Theaters, museums, concerts and entertainment will attract more millennials to live and stay here. Highly skilled workers like to live close to each other. Employers recognize this, and cities that invest heavily in arts and entertainment hold a clear advantage.
8. Support non-traditional trade schools. Tech schools should be a valued career path for many young people seeking job security. There is a national shortage of approximately 80,000 diesel technicians and truck drivers. Labor shortages crippled supply chain efficiency.
We need more programs like the Utah Diesel Tech Pathways program created in 2017 by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. This program facilitates relationships between students and employers in the field of diesel mechanics. Promoting apprenticeship programs for high school graduates among high-demand trades should continue to be a priority under current and future state leadership.
9. Guarantee affordable housing. Utah’s housing growth and demand has far exceeded available supply, driving up prices and stymieing many homebuyer hopes. Housing supply constraints limit upward economic mobility and can have a negative impact on well-being.
Utah’s incomes are not keeping pace with rising housing prices. A 2018 research paper from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute argued that while there is little government can do to address rising labor and material costs, local governments can support affordable housing through inclusive zoning ordinances, affordable housing fee reductions, and new public/private financing models.
10. Embrace diversity. Utah should be a welcoming state for people of all backgrounds and races. The more racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse Utah becomes, the more comfortable other people and businesses will be settling here. A diverse labor supply in Utah attracts more employers, and more employers will bring greater diversity to the labor supply.
Diversity will also stimulate more worship, shopping and lifestyle options for minority populations. Sustainable growth will come from warmly welcoming immigrants, refugees and other minorities into our population.
We believe that by effectively implementing these suggested suggestions, Utah can serve as a national force for creative drive and entrepreneurship. This pathway will fuel local job creation and quality of life. Utah deserves nothing less than a financially sound, socially attractive, and sustainable plan from its elected leaders for the next decade.
Henry Eyring teaches at Utah State University and the London School of Economics. Douglas Hervey is a partner at Cicero Group and leads its healthcare and private equity practice.