By any standard of measurement, Utah’s economy is thriving. We can credit our success to forward-looking leaders who made smart, but difficult decisions decades ago to invest in our future.
That same opportunity exists today as we look at addressing challenges in workforce, transportation, and air quality.
Utah’s current economic outlook is very positive. The last six months of 2014 were exceptional for economic development in the state, with project wins creating more than 2,000 new jobs while retaining over 1,800 jobs. The first half of 2015 looks promising as well, and there is every reason to believe we will continue our record-setting pace of attracting high quality companies to our state.
One of the keys to Utah’s success is our young and highly educated workforce. Thanks in large part to past investments in education and training, our workforce is nationally recognized as one of the strongest in the county.
Looking ahead, we must continue to make significant investments in training the next generation of skilled workers to meet future workforce needs. Existing Utah companies as well as businesses that are considering relocating here must feel confident that they can hire qualified employees not only today but in the future. If we invest in programs like expanded career and technical education, increased engineering graduation, and STEM education, we will have a better prepared workforce and the state will benefit from a stronger economy.
Another critical element of Utah’s healthy economy is our transportation system. Businesses and employees expect smart, efficient, sustainable transportation options, including public transit. And citizens expect well planned bike trails and walkable communities to better enjoy their great Utah quality of life.
Utah Transit Authority has already invested millions of dollars in the construction of an award-winning public transportation system backbone that spans much of the Wasatch Front. Communities are now working together to combine this system with other modes to make it even better. For example, in Lehi, the widening of S.R. 92, the opening of a commuter rail station, and the extension of the Murdock Canal trail system has helped create a region that has attracted more than 100 new businesses over the past three years, including Adobe, the Traverse Mountain Outlets, and Xactware. Giving local communities the option to invest more in transportation will create more opportunities like this.
One challenge we face is how to pay for transportation improvements with the drop in the purchasing power of Utah's motor fuel tax which has not been adjusted since 1997. We need to find a new approach so that we can improve and care for our roads, bridges, utilities and public transit.
Lastly, we need to look closely at the challenges we face with air quality if we want to ensure that our economy remains strong and our quality of life continues to attract and keep talented people. The good news is that we recognize that we have an opportunity to come together and implement best practices to reduce overall emissions. The Legislature is considering more bills than ever before in order to address important issues in air quality. But air quality is a complex problem that will not be solved overnight and it will take many different actions by industry, government and us as individuals to really fix this problem. I am encouraged to see progress already being made by these actions with more to come.
We have never been a state to sit idly by when faced with challenges. The business community, local governments and the legislature are working together to make smart investments to tackle these challenges. This combined leadership is essential if we are going to continue leading the nation in economic development and create opportunities for the next generation.
Jeff Edwards is president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.