How to Maintain Utah's Nation-Leading Economic Performance

Utah is frequently recognized as the nation’s best state for business and having the best economy. Accolades recently came from CNBC, the most-watched business network in the world. In reporting its annual “best state for business” scorecard, CNBC said, “Utah blows by the competition,” well ahead of Texas, Colorado, Minnesota and North Carolina, which rounded out the top five states for business.

This recognition is not a fluke. It truly is a measure of Utah’s economic success. While nearly every state can say it is the best at something, Utah remains a top economic performer in legitimate studies using proper benchmarks and methodologies. Forbes, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and WalletHub have also recently recognized Utah’s leading economic, business and jobs status.

Of course, we don’t want a strong economy simply to win national recognition. That’s not the purpose at all. We want a strong economy so that Utah families and individuals can flourish. So that Utahns can find great jobs that support families. So that families can comfortably take care of their financial needs, plus enjoy a few of the nicer things in life.

We want a strong economy because a prosperous society can invest in clean energy and other measures to improve air quality and protect the environment. Financially successful businesses and families can invest in efficient appliances, electric vehicles, rooftop solar, and can contribute to conservation groups.

We want a strong economy so that families, individuals, businesses and governments can support and enjoy arts, cultural, recreational and sports experiences that enrich and improve our society and bring us closer together as citizens of this great state.

We want a strong economy so we can invest in infrastructure. To remain a strong economy, we must maintain excellent mobility on our highways and public transit and enjoy stable energy and electricity costs, along with adequate water and wastewater facilities.

Perhaps most important of all, we want a strong economy so that we can provide great education for our young people. Excellent workforce development requires adequate funding, especially because we have larger families than any state.

So how do we stay on top? How do we maintain and strengthen Utah’s excellent economic performance?

It will not happen by chance. It requires constant hard work, innovation, diligence and vigilance. We must continue to deploy Utah’s secret weapon — a willingness to collaborate and work together. This is exemplified in the excellent cooperation among Utah economic development entities, including the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Economic Development Corporation of Utah, World Trade Center Utah, Salt Lake Chamber and local chambers of commerce, local governments, along with university partnerships like the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative.

Another key is economic diversity, a laser-like focus on the economic clusters and business sectors where Utah has natural advantages and can differentiate itself.

All of this requires top-notch political leadership, which we enjoy in Utah. A governor who is both practical and visionary. A Legislature that keeps taxes low and government small but is also willing to invest in education, infrastructure and strategic initiatives that keep Utah on top.

The darkest cloud on Utah’s economic horizon is workforce. Our low unemployment rate has some businesses wondering if they can find qualified employees in sufficient numbers. Excellent education for all Utah students is the answer.

In the CNBC study, Utah ranked 23rd in education performance, our second-worst rating among 10 categories. We must invest to become a top-10 education state if we want to maintain our strong economy. Our young people can be our greatest asset or our greatest liability.

Education excellence should be the theme of the next legislative session. Propelling Utah to top 10 status in education should be the goal of every policymaker and business organization. Nothing is more important to Utah’s success.

A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.

Photo: 

FILE: Randy Shumway, economic consultant to Zions Bank and CEO of the Cicero Group, talks about Utah Consumer Attitude Index, based on a July survey of 500 households in Utah, at Contender Bicycles in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. Deseret News
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Deseret News Thu, 07/28/2016 - 12:10