Guest opinion: Your zip code should not dictate how long you live

Utah is in an enviable position in many ways economically. Rapid population growth and a strong economy have helped to create record-low unemployment and a high standard of living for many, even with current extraordinary challenges.

However, not everybody in Utah has flourished. Many struggle to make ends meet, and the increased cost of living that accompanies growth additionally burdens some. This economic disparity ripples through lives, adversely affecting housing and transportation options, diet, education, access to health and financial services, and ability to participate fully in all that Utah has to offer.

Together, these factors can dramatically reduce life expectancy – even between neighborhoods. During 2010-2015, a census tract in the Capitol Hill neighborhood boasted a life expectancy of 84.5 years.[1] Yet the Poplar Grove neighborhood had average expectancy of 74 years. Two-and-a-half miles apart, yet ten years different in life expectancy.

Utah is one of the most philanthropic states in the country. Still, tremendous philanthropic effort alone cannot address the challenges we face. All anchor institutions have a role to play.

Anchor institutions are organizations, private and public, whose fate is permanently and inextricably tied to the fate of their communities. They are anchors because of their large scale and scope and because the decisions they make affect communities in significant ways.

Anchor organizations stay in their geographical areas for generations, even as conditions rapidly change around them. It is in their best interest to proactively help address disparities that have a negative effect on quality of life.

Intermountain Healthcare and Zions Bank are two Utah institutions that choose to lean-in to their anchor role. Together, we are working on a range of statewide initiatives intended to address inequality and expand opportunity. A few examples:

Utah Housing Preservation Fund – Intermountain and Zions Bank helped to establish, and subsequently invested in and provided lending to, the Utah Housing Preservation Fund. Housed at the Utah Nonprofit Housing Corporation, this program preserves existing affordable housing, improves its quality, stabilizes rents, and helps individuals exiting homelessness.

Rocky Mountain Homes Fund – Our two organizations have also invested in the Rocky Mountain Homes Fund. This program facilitates equitable growth by teaming with public and private employers to provide individuals and families with stable homeownership possibilities in communities that matter to them.

Public Real Estate Management – Intermountain and Zions Bank are leading an initiative to help public landowners – cities, counties, school districts, colleges, and others – manage their real estate more effectively in partnership with the private sector. Through financial support and technical assistance provided to the Utah League of Cities and Towns and the Wasatch Front Regional Council, we are helping all cities in Utah unlock the significant public wealth they already own to address local needs.

Intermountain is deliberately increasing local supply chain spending, hiring to ensure that staff at all levels reflect the racial and experiential diversity of our communities, and minimizing fossil-fuel reliance, water consumption, and consumption of harmful products and chemicals throughout the supply chain.

Zions Bank is working with new energy to bring common sense solutions to the table as both a lender and an investor, and to bring partners –including peer financial institutions –to the same table to create innovative, collaborative, and cost-effective approaches to community challenges.

Truly being an anchor institution requires more than supporting a handful of valuable individual projects. It is a way of thinking. Compassionate decision making. It’s working to build trust with your neighbors and with the public.

We encourage all Utah anchor institutions to lean-in. Pivot from short-term decision making to long-term. Expand your view of your constituents to include not only your shareholders, but all stakeholders. Work with integrity to create stronger neighborhoods with your resources. Behave as if the health and survival of your organization is directly tied to the wellbeing of your communities. Because it is.

The disparities faced by many in Utah are not inevitable or permanent. Nor is the housing crisis, homelessness, water shortage, air pollution, or any other seemingly intractable problem we face. Your zip code should not dictate your health and life expectancy.

Nick Fritz is the Impact Investing Director at Intermountain Healthcare and was previously Senior Associate and Director of Data, Policy, and Performance Innovation at the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah. He served in the United States Marine Corps as a Battalion Logistics Officer and Platoon Commander.

Shaleane Gee is the Senior Vice President of Community and Regional Development at Zions Bank. She teaches courses focused on public-private partnerships at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business and Department of City & Metropolitan Planning.

[1] Tejada-Vera B, Bastian B, Arias E, Escobedo LA., Salant B, Life Expectancy Estimates by U.S. Census Tract, 2010-2015. National Center for Health Statistics. 2020.