Podcast: Derek Miller discusses the Inland Port, Tax reform and Utah’s economy

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Derek Miller, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber joins the podcast. Miller is also chairman of the Inland Port Authority board.

He discusses several subjects with Managing Editor Bryan Schott including:

  • The ongoing protests surrounding the Inland Port 
  • Tax reform
  • Are Utah businesses worried the economy is heading for a downturn?
  • International trade

Some highlights from the interview:

On the protests and lawsuits surrounding the Inland Port:

Is it causing some delays that are impacting it to a degree that might have a detrimental effect on this? I think the short answer is no, it’s not causing any delays. 

Look at some other big projects that are ongoing. We’ve got the Point of the Mountain redevelopment with zero controversies around that, at least that I’m aware of. We’ve got an airport that’s being rebuilt. Everybody loves it. It’s gonna increase emissions a lot more than new inland port is going to do. But you don’t hear anybody complaining about it. 

There’s obviously a microscope on the inland port because of the political controversies. 

Does the Inland Port have a public perception problem because of the controversy?

I think that’s a good question and I do worry that politics is driving that perception. I think very few people understand what the actual project is. I hear all kinds of crazy things like the state stole the land from Salt Lake City. No, it didn’t. Salt Lake City didn’t own a stick of land in the Northwest Quadrant. It was all privately owned. They were already zoned with a master plan by the city years ago. They could go out there tomorrow and start building whatever they want to build as long as it fits within the entitlements that Salt Lake City gave them.

There’s a lot of misperceptions out there and I fear that because the politics is getting all of the attention and none of the substance of what this actually is is being reported in the press. But I’m hopeful that through the public outreach process that Envision Utah is leading, eventually, I believe that the politics will subside. We’re going to have a new mayor come November. I’ve spoken to every mayoral candidate about this, and I hope it gives us an opportunity to hit the reset button and takes some of the personal politics out of it

Is he worried that Utah’s economy will be negatively impacted if the economy experiences a downturn?

I’m not too worried that would be damaging to the economy of the state. When you hear economists talk about a slowdown, what they’re talking about is a slow down in the growth, and our growth has been phenomenal. If we go from 3% to 2%, that still 2%. So I think it’s important to clarify what we mean by slow down. The reality is there’s always ebbs and flows in the economy. I think the other reality is that our fundamentals are still strong.

But I look at what’s happening internationally. We’ve got these silly trade wars going on. In some ways, President Trump ends up being his own worst enemy because things are going so well, but then something silly will happen and you know, we’re suddenly escalating tensions overseas and it has an impact.

When I talk to Utah businesses, they’re, they’re doing well, but they wish that they were still selling more overseas. And as you indicated, it’s not even just the tariffs or the trade wars themselves. Sometimes it’s just the uncertainty that it inserts into the market. And if you’re uncertain, suddenly you’re ordering less and when you’re ordering less, suddenly Utah companies are selling less.  If we could get this thing resolved with China, if we could get the new NAFTA approved, that’s just going to be more gas in Utah’s economic engine. 

How are Utah businesses reacting to efforts by the Utah Legislature to implement tax reform?

They’re feeling a lot better about it. I applaud the legislature for hitting the pause button, slowing things down, taking a more deliberate approach.  remember in the waning days of the legislative session having this conversation with the governor and talking to him about the concerns of the business community. Those concerns were primarily process-related. I said to him I can talk to the members of the Chamber and the business community about the need for tax reform. I can talk to them about the changes that are happening on the tax landscape with regards to sales tax on services. But, I said the one thing I cannot justify is passing a bill that came out last week with very litter understanding and very little time to be able to review and know what was in the bill.

We ought to be grateful that we have members of the legislature who want to spend their summer going around the state talking about this. We have beautiful areas of the state, but they’re not seeing any of them. They’re sitting inside some public library or some conference room in the local Holiday Inn having these meetings. They want to hear from the public. I think at the end of the day we’ll not only have a better process but will have a better outcome.