My View: Talent Builds Championships and Our Economy

Talent builds championships. Just ask Kyle Whittingham and Kalani Sitake. As football season begins, we’ll watch players — recruited for raw potential and their ability to make key plays — take the field. Practice and execution will matter.

Yet, when it comes to winning, both coaches will tell you that nothing tops recruiting great talent. The same goes for Utah’s economy.

Since 1980, our state has moved from a mining and construction centric economy to what is now the most diversified in the nation. This has been a transformative effort. A small interior western state, the crossroads of the west, is now the most economically-diverse state in the most economically-diverse Country in the WORLD. And we’re reaping the benefits of this ranking.

So what’s the key to our success? A comprehensive strategy to recruit new capital, talent and opportunities. This has been bolstered by an intense, collaborative approach to moving the state's economy forward. When it comes to growing Utah’s economy we play like a championship team.

That's why the Salt Lake Chamber helped establish the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. And why we have supported the creation and mission of The Governor's Office of Economic Development. Today, we stand by these entities, and many other stakeholders, in their role of enhancing Utah’s ability to compete and win against other states to attracting key investments.

Their results should speak for themselves. Excellence in corporate recruitment has fueled the rise of the ‘Silicon Slopes,’ the ‘Composite Corridor’ and 'Wall Street of the West.” Household names like Goldman Sachs, Adobe, eBay, Boeing, Procter & Gamble and IM Flash have helped grow the capacity and diversity of Utah’s economy.

The impact to the average Utahn? Decades ago, a college educated engineer — your son or daughter — couldn't find a job. They had to move just to find opportunity. Today, they are likely to have too many offers to count. And that’s just one profession. The impacts are far larger. These successful recruitments have attracted other outside investment and led to homegrown companies gaining global attention and investment.

Nevertheless, the world of economic development can seem removed from everyday life. Even more so when incentives to support private enterprises comes into play. But just remember. A scholarship benefits both the student-athlete and football program. The same is true for the incentives that attract new commercial projects and grow our economy.

In fact, since fiscal year 2006, state incented companies have paid more than $188 million in new state taxes and have claimed tax credits of $60 million, resulting in $128 million new tax dollars for the State of Utah. These same companies have created more than 12,700 new jobs.

But incentives aren’t everything. Utah is near the bottom tier of states for per-capita spending on incentives. Many times we are simply winning on fundamentals and punching above our weight.

For example, this past month Utah was recognized with the "national championship" of economic development as CNBC's 2016 Best State for Business. While significant, this was not the first such recognition. In fact, Utah has topped Forbes list for Best State for Business five out of the last six years. An economic dynasty in the making.

These recognitions matter. Global capital and investment is fickle and mobile. Just as winning talent will seek out winning programs, major corporations will seek out the most talented economies and pro-business communities for investment.

This should also serve as an important reminder that economic development agreements must be negotiated, discussed and disclosed professionally, transparently and fairly. It is also imperative that Utah’s incentive programs — at all levels — are rigorously reviewed. Something we can do much better at. All this matters not just to taxpayers, but to our other future recruits.

So the question at hand, will Utah retain its economic dynasty? Like the rising stakes in football, the competition is always getting better. Other states are rising to the challenge and learning from our success. We can’t rest on our laurels.

Utah’s model for corporate recruitment continues to pay dividends for our entire state. However, if we are to continue our winning streak, we must find new ways to build consensus, improve benchmarking of potential deals and increase public participation. We must also address key limiting factors to our growth, like investing in our education system, improving our air quality and wisely using our limited water resources. And the best thing we can do is something we are known for doing best — play like a team. Because nothing recruits new talent like a winning team.

Lane Beattie is President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.

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Deseret News Sun, 08/14/2016 - 12:00