How Should We Prepare for the Coming Megalopolis?

EDCUtah url 516 206The “Point of the Mountain,” where Salt Lake and Utah Counties intersect, is fast becoming the epicenter of a “Megalopolis” that will span Utah’s Wasatch Front.

With potential for the land currently occupied by the Utah State Prison to become a key part of that epicenter, the Utah State Legislature made a visionary move during the recent legislative session by enacting HB 318, which created the Point of the Mountain Development Commission.

The legislation that created the 15-member commission was one of three economic development-related bills passed this session that will drive Utah forward. The other two bills passed involve air quality (SB 186) and outdoor recreation (HB 52) initiatives.

GOED Deputy Director Theresa Foxley says HB 318 was the concept of Rep. Brad Wilson, who shepherded it through the legislature with the Senate sponsorship of Sen. Jerry Stevenson. She describes the commission created by HB 318 as a visioning effort focused on how the state can maximize the land that will become available once the state prison is moved, but it is really much larger than that. While the initial focus is the development of the prison site and its impact on shoulder areas such as the cities of Herriman, Draper, Bluffdale and Lehi, the model can be used in other areas of the state, creating a model for public, private, legislative, executive and local collaboration on issues of statewide importance.

“This is a ground-breaking step,” Foxley says. “We are not only looking at the potential for the prison site, but all of the surrounding areas and could even use the model for other areas of the state that have regional economic development impacts.”

Seats on the commission will be filled by four legislators, two representatives from GOED, one representative from EDCUtah, one representative from the state’s IT industry, one representative from the school boards in or close to the project area, the mayors of Lehi, Draper, Salt Lake County, two mayors appointed by the Utah League of Cities and Towns, and a member appointed by the Utah County Commission.

The commission’s first deliverable is a report to Gov. Gary Herbert and the legislature that is due in November. Foxley says the objective is to identify the highest, best use of the prison land and how to build up around it, while also looking at housing, transportation and other infrastructure requirements and how to fund those needs. The effort will require significant coordination between GOED and the legislature, “which we are excited about,” she adds.

Other Megalopolis-Related Legislation
EDCUtah President and CEO Jeff Edwards says the passage of SB 186, Air Quality Incentives, is a big win for economic development and the growth of these valleys because it sets up a mechanism for companies that are creating jobs in “nonattainment areas” to receive help with the purchase of air quality control equipment. Those nonattainment areas essentially cover Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties, where air quality exceeds National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Sponsored by Sen. Curtis Bramble and Rep. Lowry Snow, SB 186 creates a new part of the Industrial Assistance Fund, which GOED administers, to assist companies that are creating high-paying jobs and making capital investments in the state with the purchase of air quality emissions equipment. As an example, Edwards says a manufacturing company with a paint booth at its facility in one of the nonattainment areas could receive assistance to purchase equipment mitigating its emissions issues.

Foxley says that given Utah’s air shed constraints and value on quality of life, having one tool in place to help mitigate the air quality issues is really important. “This legislation lays the groundwork for our ability to continue to attract world-class companies and grow world-class companies here,” she adds. “The legislation also levels the playing field for Utah as it competes with other states that aren’t subject to the nonattainment issues.”

GOED is in the process of structuring the program, but Foxley says the plan is to have it running by July. The key, she notes, is to make the program sustainable, so it is done in a way that recirculates the assistance funds rather than just drains them. Some possibilities include revolving low interest or no interest loans for air quality equipment. “We have a lot of flexibility under the statute regarding how we structure the program,” she continues.

Edwards says EDCUtah was pleased to support the measure because air quality has been a concern for quite some time and without improvement, it will constrict economic development. “This bill is one way to mitigate that. We can still have growth while also helping companies purchase the air quality control equipment they need,” he says.

Meanwhile, HB 52, Office of Outdoor Recreation Amendments, provides Utah’s Outdoor Recreation Office with the mechanism to partner with local communities for infrastructure developments that support the outdoor recreation economy.

“Outdoor recreation is one of the things that makes Utah authentic and keeps our quality of life so high,” says Foxley, “which in turn allows us to retain and attract talent. But we are loving our outdoors to death.”

Sponsored by Rep. Patrice Arent and Sen. Ralph Okerlund, HB 52 creates an infrastructure grant program that will be administered by the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation to assist local communities with infrastructure projects that would allow the recreation assets to remain beautiful and attractive while facilitating the growing number of recreationists.

“We are pleased to extend the program,” Foxley says. “I think it will enhance our outdoor recreation assets and infrastructure while also providing ancillary benefits to tourism and corporate recruitment.”

Under the legislation, in addition to providing and overseeing the grant program, the Outdoor Recreation Office will provide consulting work to the local communities to help them make applications for grants and work on the maintenance of outdoor recreation assets.