In the face of soaring populations in Utah, intentional growth will be key
The report “Utah Long-Term Planning Projections,” recently published by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, outlines how Utah’s continued economic growth and diversification will drive net migration to the state. As the population is projected to grow to more than 2.2 million people in the next forty years—a 66 percent increase—the report claims population growth is becoming a “steadily increasing force.”
Utah is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, and there are key reasons for this migration—namely quality of life benefits, such as the abundance of outdoor recreation opportunities, strength in public and private partnerships, and mobility of jobs—all of which are crucial to the state’s economic strength.
Lana Howell, Managing Director at Colliers in Salt Lake City, says that Utah has been ranked as one of the top states for economic growth for the last seven to ten years. The reasons for that growth include the state’s great culture, ideal outdoor activities, and a business-friendly environment.
Utah is a state where, depending on the time of year, you can hit the slopes and enjoy great snow, then travel a few minutes into the valley and go biking or golfing on the same day. “It seems every month, another article is published regarding mental health and the need to get outside and enjoy nature,” Howell says. “Work-life balance is so important, and Utah offers the best of both to its community.”
The impact of outdoor recreation on Utah business
In another Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute report titled, “Outdoor Recreation and Utah Business,” Utah’s tech sector is recognized as the fastest growing industry in the state. And the most important factor to tech employees deciding whether or not to relocate to Utah? Access to year-round outdoor recreation.
“A companion study of Utah businesses found that outdoor lifestyle helps with location and expanding operations in Utah, employee recruitment and retention, and the desirability to do business in the state,” the report states.
In relation to this, Howell acknowledges the importance of job mobility and the ability for employees to work in different physical locations than where the company is headquartered—a trend that’s only been accelerated by the pandemic. “This has, in fact, made an impact on Utah as we are seeing immigration of employees who can now work from home and live where they want to,” Howell says.
In 2021, Utah saw the largest migration increase in over a decade, Howell says. Utah added over 34,000 people to its population—roughly 10,000 more than were added in 2020. “People are looking to live in a place that fits their lifestyle, and with Utah’s economy, job openings, and recreational activities, they have decided to move to our state,” Howell says.
Utah’s outdoor recreation creates over $778 million in state and local tax revenue, and outdoor activity is a large portion of Utah’s economy, Howell says, continuing, “Having access to world-class recreation across the state allows employers to retain talent due to the fantastic quality of life offered in Utah.” Outdoor recreation generates over 61,000 jobs in the state and is 2.5 percent of the state’s GDP, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Howell says that as Utah continues to grow, there is a strain on sustainable development. However, local and state governments understand the importance of partnering with private and nonprofit sectors to facilitate additional needs for each community. “This is one of Utah’s greatest strengths,” Howell says. “Everyone understands the importance of growing the right way, so we don’t ruin what makes Utah an ideal place to live and work.”
Tackling challenges regarding the state’s growth
Envision Utah—a nonprofit, non-partisan partnership that brings business, government, and community leaders together to tackle the growth-related challenges facing our state—engages Utahns to ensure they’re helping preserve what they love most about this amazing state.
“There is more public-private collaboration in Utah than anywhere else in America,” says Ari Bruening, President and CEO of Envision Utah. “Whenever we tackle a thorny issue at Envision Utah, we make sure we have policymakers at the table as well as business and community leaders and advocates. We find that when people look into the future, they tend to discover common ground and move forward toward a shared vision.”
Bruening says now that Utah’s intrigue has been “discovered,” we’re seeing economic benefits but also crowding at our most-loved recreation destinations, which threatens access and quality of our outdoor amenities. “We’re going to have to be very intentional about developing new recreation infrastructure and destinations to alleviate that crowding,” Bruening says.
If we can work collaboratively together, we can tackle any challenge we face—whether that’s recreational crowding, soaring housing prices, or increasing traffic, Bruening says. “As long as we have a high quality of life and a prosperous economy, we’re going to grow. In fact, trying to stop growth will just undermine our economy and quality of life. But if we work together on how we grow, we can keep Utah a great place to live for current and future generations.”