Five Questions for Thomas Wadsworth
At the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), Thomas Wadsworth is the manager of Business Development and Corporate Incentives, charged with recruiting local and out-of-state companies to expand or relocate to Utah.
We caught up with him the day before a busy board meeting where he shepherded three state incentive agreements through approval. There’s no better person to give site selectors and corporate expansion professionals an overview of what transpired in the 2019 state legislative session.
Any significant changes to the Economic Development Tax Increment Financing (EDTIF) program?
TW: It’s was steady as she goes this session. More than a decade ago, the Utah Legislature authorized economic development incentives in the form of post-performance tax rebates. Economic Development Tax Increment Financing remains the state’s primary incentive program and the latest legislative session brought no significant changes to the program. Eligible companies work with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development to outline specific performance criteria – notably jobs – and a rebate is calculated based on payroll tax, sales tax, and state income tax. Eligible companies demonstrate they’ve met the criteria, and the state issues a rebate annually.
In conversations I’ve had with site selectors, the general message is that they like Utah’s approach. It’s straightforward and measurable, not flashy but above all, it’s predictable. “Your money is good,” I’ve heard some say.
Did the session bring any new incentives?
TW: Most of Utah’s population lives between Provo and Orem, with Salt Lake City pretty much in the middle of what we call the Wasatch Front. Growth in parts of the state off the Wasatch Front was a key focus of the 2019 session. Specifically, the legislators approved an expansion of the Rural Economic Development Incentive, or REDI.
REDI provides incentives to businesses that create new, high-paying jobs in Utah counties with smaller populations. For each position that qualifies, the business receives $4,000 to $6,000 based on a number of factors. The annual cap per company used to be $25,000 but it is now $250,000. That should increase interest in locating business operations in rural parts of the state.
This incentive is stackable, meaning it can be utilized in conjunction with EDTIF.
Did any other significant legislation come about?
TW: Two bills come to mind. Senate Bill 172 calls on GOED to produce by October of 2019 a strategic economic development plan that promotes better identification of goals and better collaboration between stakeholders. Part of the plan will include an analysis of incentives and recommendations for improvement.
We’ve done strategic plans as a department on a regular basis, but the emphasis in this effort is to bring GOED and its partners in the Department of Workforce Services, the Office of Energy Development, and various educational agencies into closer alignment. We’re no different than other states. We understand that talent and costs of doing business drive economic growth, and we know it’s a long game.
Another significant bill is House Bill 433. Last year, the legislature formed a Utah Inland Port Authority, to coordinate development of a manufacturing and distribution center west of the Salt Lake City International Airport. This bill allows the Authority to create a hub-and-spoke model with other Utah communities, particularly in rural Utah. This would allow rural communities that import and export goods out of the state the ability to clear international customs in their own communities, rather than having to ship goods to Salt Lake City first.
Even though we’re landlocked, Utah is very much oriented to international trade. This bill seeks to drive more efficiencies in our trade processes to keep us competitive.
Any trends in the kind of businesses that are coming to Utah?
TW: Information Technology in general remains a strong cluster for Utah. Within that cluster, we’re seeing a lot of Financial Technology – or FinTech – companies opening operations here. We’re also attracting our fair share of distribution and manufacturing projects, particularly in composites and in food processing. I think we’ll continue to see an increase of interest in these areas as the Inland Port comes online.
As a side note here, like other states, we’re rolling out Opportunity Zones. GOED selected the Utah Association of Counties to spearhead Utah Opportunity Zone planning and implementation.
Any significant workforce initiatives?
TW: The Talent Ready Utah Center's Utah Works Program is new. It promotes partnerships between companies, post-secondary institutions, and the Department of Workforce Services to fill high demand positions or provide technical skills training. The legislature has allocated $4 million in one-time and $1 million in on-going funding.