Fox File #94: Utah Leads Together Version IV - The Approach to Infrastructure

Since mid-March I’ve served on the Utah Economic Response Task Force, with an assignment to develop a plan for investments in infrastructure to help the state “recover to better.” Last week, the Governor released Version IV of the “Utah Leads Together” plan, and I want to take this opportunity to highlight its infrastructure elements.

At the high level, the Task Force recommends a mix of short-term shovel-ready and long-term targeted investments that reflect where the global economy is headed. We broaden our scope over time. We start with tactical revitalization investments and move toward broader, more strategic ones that position Utah for long-term growth.

In the 100-day horizon, we recommend grants to businesses and the arts community. With respect to the arts, we encourage creating new works of art and other community programming. Think of this as support for our “creative infrastructure.”

In the 250-day horizon, the state begins to pivot away from stimulus and recovery, to lay the groundwork for economic expansion. In the near term, infrastructure projects can have good multiplier effects. Long term, they facilitate economic expansion. With this in mind, the Task Force recommends up to $2 billion in accelerated bonding for infrastructure in six areas of focus:

Transportation - New highway capacity construction, enhancing UDOT’s existing telecommunications network, and expanding our network of electric vehicle charging stations are possible investments.

Transit – Bus Rapid Transit, Front Runner double tracking, and capital facilities to speed up transition to natural gas and electric fleet are areas of focus here.

Active Transportation / Outdoor Recreation - We recommend the state and local governments focus on projects that will increase quality of life in urban communities and bring jobs to gateway communities. We may see a contemporary version of the Civilian Conservation Corps emerge from this effort!

Fourth, water quality and availability will influence our state’s growth in coming decades. Financing additional wastewater treatment and sewer facilities, pursuing dam safety projects, and for drinking water, using grants to buy down the cost of using federal funds are possibilities here.

Broadband is a fifth area and can help address social inequities. We can narrow the digital divide through a UETN network build out and a state broadband grant program to expand last-mile access.

Sixth, in the area of housing, we know Utah has a shortage of up to 50,000 units. State leaders may want to consider a housing bond and other policies to increase Utah’s housing supply. Energy efficiency upgrades may be part of an overall housing strategy.

Bridging to the 500-day horizon - Utah’s economic revitalization plan focuses on actions that can be taken in the next 500 days to ensure prosperity for the state over the next 5,000 days. 

This part of the plan builds upon our understanding of where the world economy is headed. This requires further discussion with State and other thought leaders and should focus on:

Mega Trends – automation, machine learning, augmented reality, cybersecurity

New shifts – shorter “smarter” supply chains, remote work, food security, air quality

I’ve given short shrift to the human capital aspects of Version 4. In brief, the Task Force recommends training-ready investments for rapid reskilling and upskilling. While we expect a full recovery, we know that with major economic trends underway, Utah will be better poised to compete in the post-COVID economy if our human capital is well educated and well prepared. Major actions include: 

  1. Make strategic investments in short-term training programs designed to meet the immediate needs of key industries 
  2. Expand flexible apprenticeship programs that fit the needs of businesses 
  3. Provide a voucher program to Utahns who want to attain post-high school certificate, credentials and degrees. 
  4. Provide vouchers for one-year graduate programs. 

The bottom line, we want to make reskilling faster, easier, and more affordable. 

In closing we recommend that leaders take four actions: 

  • Research and prioritize those investment options to maximize societal benefit. 
  • Sharpen the state’s focus on economic inclusion 
  • Adopt a key sector strategy to ensure we are capitalizing on mega trends
  • Reimagine our economic development programs and incentives 

These actions will help us achieve a higher trajectory of global leadership and growth. We look to partners across the state to help us identify new programs, new ideas, and new investment opportunities to ensure Utah’s economic future is bright for all. 

Our infrastructure sub-committee has benefited from the insights of more people than I can thank in this forum. I do want to call out several EDCUtah investors that have lent wise counsel to the effort: Dominion Energy, Rocky Mountain Power, ATT, CenturyLink, Comcast, UTOPIA, Colliers International, Union Pacific, Clyde Companies, Layton Construction, Big-D, Jacobsen Construction, R & O, Mortenson, and so many others! 


Mon, 06/22/2020 - 10:57