Gardner Institute releases first-of-a-kind analysis of Utah’s economic regions

This article is for real policy wonks. The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah has published a paper outlining how Utah divides into economic regions. It may not be terribly exciting for politicos obsessed with horserace election politics, but understanding  economic and travel patterns, among other things, can help policymakers make the right decisions regarding planning, budgeting, transportation and other matters.

“Economic activity does not naturally respect political boundaries,” said Natalie Gochnour, director of the Gardner Institute. “The best example of this is the county boundary that separates Salt Lake and Utah counties. Workers, customers, and suppliers flow seamlessly across these county lines forming a single economic region.”

Read the full paper HERE.

Following is an introduction and key findings.

The Utah economy organizes systematically into six economic regions. These regions capture local commuting patterns and score well for other measures of economic connection. Markets systematically organize into functional economic areas. The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute identifies six of these economic regions in Utah: Greater Salt Lake, Uintah Basin, West Central, East Central, Southwest, and Southeast. Like an airshed or watershed in the natural world, these economic regions capture the “commutershed” of the local labor market and score well for other measures of economic connection, including consumption of health care, industry similarity, co-movement of wages, and unemployment rates. Decision-makers can use these economic regions to inform planning, budgeting, and policy decisions.

Key Findings

* Six economic regions – The Utah economy organizes functionally into six economic areas that bound much of the economic activity of residents. * Similar to Utah’s Associations of Governments – These economic regions, which have been defined using 2011- 2015 American Community Survey data, are similar to the geographic boundaries of Utah’s longstanding Associations of Governments, with some notable exceptions. The influence of the Greater Salt Lake Area has increased, resulting in a larger single northern economic region. Carbon and Emery counties also emerge as a single economic region.

* Greater Salt Lake Area dominates – Utah’s northern metropolitan region casts a long economic reach on the state, comprising 12 of Utah’s 29 counties, 86% of the state’s population, and 88% of the state’s jobs.i Salt Lake City is the undisputed economic center of this region and the state, functioning as the center for commerce, finance, transportation, health care, arts, entertainment, and culture, as well as the seat of government.

* Commuting patterns – Analysts define the regions using commuting data that capture the labor market activity and movement. These labor market connections can also be thought of as “commutersheds.” Further aspects of economic regions are measured using health care consumption patterns, industry similarity, co-movement of wages, and unemployment rates.

* Planning and policy support – Decision-makers can use these economic regions to inform public and private investment, planning, and policy decisions.