As an economic developer, I ask myself this question frequently. There is no easy answer. And yet in Utah I think we have answered the question better than in many other places in our country. To be sure, melding environmental and economic issues requires hard work -- just to get environmental and business concerns in the same room together can be daunting -- and the issues to be debated are often so highly charged that facts can give way to emotional and irrational behavior.
Further, words take on very different meanings depending on who is saying them. Consider the word "sustainable" for example. In the environmental realm, sustainable means the most efficient use of natural resources, carbon neutral, green practices and a focus on renewable resources.
To an economic developer, sustainable implies that the jobs created are economically sustainable over time, and that they generate living wages for families -- especially in rural communities.
"Stewardship" is another word with multiple applications. Regarding our environment, stewardship means taking responsibility to preserve and protect natural places. To an economic developer, stewardship means taking responsibility to create economic opportunities for the next generation -- jobs for our children and grandchildren.
I believe that is possible to create economic prosperity, protect the environment and still create jobs for the future, but there are certainly challenges. For example, consider the development of the Wasatch Range. Here we have a unique resource -- a world-class wilderness with 7,000 feet of vertical mountains -- right next to a million people! How do we avoid loving our mountains to death? How do we keep them part of our quality of life and still allow them to be a vibrant part of our economy?
Next, what about the development of Uintah Basin energy? The Basin has high potential to create domestic energy supplies for decades to come, which is really part of our national security. But the extreme impacts of similar developments in places like North and South Dakota are not what many people want for Utah. Is there a way to create a healthy energy economy and still preserve the natural beauty of the land? Can energy and environmental concerns co-exist? Can we apply sustainability and stewardship in a way that preserves the environment and still creates good jobs for residents in the rural Uintah Basin?
I am confident that we have the capacity to find the right solutions to these and many other challenges -- with stewardship and sustainability that meet both economic and environmental interests.
What Companies Look For
Every day in my office, we talk to companies that are thinking about locating their businesses in Utah. These companies are primarily looking for four things:
- A great workforce -- both for workers today and tomorrow
- Affordable real estate for both the company and its employees
- A stable business environment -- low taxes and utilities, and a business-friendly government
- Great Quality of life -- both for relocating employees and for new hires
In Utah, we are fortunate to be able to deliver on all four of these requirements in abundant ways. And yet we have some significant challenges ahead of us that require immediate focus in order for us to sustain the high level of interest in Utah that exists today. Here is my short list of challenges:
- Adequate job growth to support our growing population
In Utah, we are fortunate to have a significant level of media interest. Our economy is the center of national and international attention and it is helping us to attract some great companies. Currently, we have over 200 active projects in our office. Over the last 12 months, EDCUtah and the Governor's Office of Economic Development (GOED) accounted for more than 11,000 new or retained jobs and more than $500M in capital investment. We have had great recruiting successes with companies new to Utah, such as Adobe, EMC and Procter & Gamble. We have also had success with the retention and expansion of Utah companies. Recently, Governor Herbert cut the ribbon on a new ITT Exelis facility in Salt Lake City that will manufacture composite aerospace parts and will create up to 2,700 new jobs at full build out. We are thrilled with this success, but we must keep after it and compete vigorously for the high value jobs of the future, not just the low hanging fruit.
- Workforce alignment with future job needs
We could fill many of the present vacancies in our companies with in-state students if we could better align our K-12 and higher education programs with market needs. Further, to prepare our students for jobs of the future, where skill sets will surely change, we must teach them how to adapt to future needs. We will need workers of every kind -- in manufacturing and technology as well as investment banking. Not everyone needs to go to college to get a good job, but to support our diverse economy we must have the certificate programs, the educational opportunities and the incentives necessary for students to get the right skill sets for today's jobs and the jobs of the future. I believe the recent partnership forged between Governor Herbert and Prosperity 2020 business and education leaders is an example of the cooperation and vision that will help prepare today's students for tomorrow's jobs.
- Water -- Where will it come from?
Are we willing to give up some places to get it? There are very complex water projects being considered across our state, including the Lake Powell pipeline, the Snake Valley project, finishing the Central Utah Project and the future of the Colorado River. I believe that water conservation must be the FIRST topic addressed for these projects, even in agriculture.
- Air quality
It is easy to get discouraged about this complex problem, but it is important to remember that we are not Los Angeles. Here we have 20 problem days a year versus 365 days there. I don't mean to downplay our problem, which is especially challenging because it requires that we ask people to change their behavior, and changing behavior is not easy! It's also important to realize that we have made some progress. Regional planning entities like the Wasatch Front Regional Council are creating job and transportation corridors that reduce commuting times and will thus reduce our air pollution. Further, there are strong sustainability programs in our cities and programs like the Clear Air Challenge and Rideshare that are making a big difference. The Salt Lake Chamber has a strong Air Quality Committee focused on business involvement. Governor Herbert has the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR), which is a statewide effort to improve Utah's air quality. We also have the great advantage of having a successful transit system being built for the next 25 years. Now we need to support it with ridership.
Trust and Cooperation
Facing these challenges will be hard work. We shouldn’t be content just to do the easy stuff. We have the tools -- and the willpower to use them. Furthermore, we can use our tools and still like each other when we are done. Trust and cooperation are the key ingredients in getting the hard things done. For evidence of this, one only has to look to the recent winners of the Envision Utah Governor’s Quality Growth Awards, where developers and environmentalists were both at the table knowing their views would be heard and respected. Organizations like Envision Utah have shown that we can do hard things and that we are prepared to do more hard things in the future for this generation and the next.
Portions of this column were taken from Jeff's speech at the Governor's Quality Growth Awards Ceremony on Aug. 21, 2012.