Economic performance study calls Utah 'most fundamentally sound state'

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is among the most industrious states in the nation, according to a new study ranking states by their economic vitality and high-tech performance.

Trailing only North Dakota and Texas in overall economic performance, Utah rated as “the most fundamentally sound state across all identified policy areas.”

The study, "Enterprising States: States Innovate," uses 35 metrics measuring “overall economic performance” to compare and rank states in pivotal policy areas for job growth and economic health.

The six policy categories were economic performance, high-tech performance, transportation and trade, talent pipeline, innovation and entrepreneurship, and business climate.

Utah was the only state to rank in the top 10 in five of the six major study categories, barely missing the cut in the talent pipeline category at No. 11.

Utah ranked first in the country for innovation and entrepreneurship, second for high-tech performance, third for economic performance, fifth in transportation and trade, and seventh for business climate, according to the report produced by Grand Forks, North Dakota, economic research organization Praxis Strategy Group for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

The report cited cooperation and collaboration as the cornerstones of Utah’s job creation success, with a low unemployment rate of 3.4 percent, explained Mark Schill, Praxis vice president for research and study co-author.

The state has streamlined the path to entrepreneurship by eliminating obstacles to obtain required business licenses and developing a network of 14 business resource centers throughout the state that offer tailored support to small businesses, he added.

“It’s probably the best performing all-around state,” Schill said. “It’s quite remarkable actually.”

The report noted that while Silicon Valley continues to be the epicenter of U.S. high-tech activity, expensive housing costs have pushed the migration of skilled tech talent from coastal regions to more affordable, family-friendly locations like Utah.

In return, the state bolsters its position in the science, technology, engineering and math economy by making significant investments that are attractive to startups firms, including a 30 percent tax credit on all new income, payroll and sales tax paid to the state; a sales-tax exemption on the purchase of new manufacturing equipment; and millions of dollars of yearly research funding directed to the state’s public universities and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development STEM Action Center, the study stated.

“Employment opportunities abound in Utah thanks largely in part to a sound infrastructure that nurtures education and entrepreneurship,” said Carolyn Cawley, managing director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “States seeking to gain a competitive edge in the expanding tech economy should turn to Utah as a guide for programs and policies that are making a measurable difference.”

There is no exact “recipe for success," Schill noted, "but there are ingredients” that other states would be wise to include in their efforts to create a more fertile environment for economic growth and long-term prosperity.

“It’s important for a small state like Utah to form authentic networks around their entrepreneurship communities and universities,” he explained.

Also, having cooperation among policymakers and businesses helps to form partnerships that will prove fruitful in the long run, Schill said.

One local business observer was particularly encouraged by Utah’s high ranking among the nation’s best state economies.

“Our diverse economy draws on a young, vibrant talent pool and each year continues to grow. Our exports are increasing and we have a thriving tech sector,” said Lane Beattie, president and chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Chamber.

“We are reaping the benefits of both public and private infrastructure investments. Utah is also fortunate to have both a governor and legislature who are business–minded. Add to that an engaged business community, and you have a wonderful formula for success,” Beattie said.

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Deseret News Tue, 12/01/2015 - 11:20