The Path To Growth
Within the next 50 years, Utah’s population is expected to double, reaching nearly six million people, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. For many Utahns, exponential growth like this raises concerns about how our state, cities, neighborhoods, and lifestyles will be impacted. However, proactive and deliberate planning today means we can harness this growth to our state’s advantage, creating an opportunity out of a potential obstacle.
To start, our business climate must remain strong for our state to continue to be a destination for new businesses to develop and current businesses to expand. We need to modernize our tax structure by broadening our sales tax base to include consumable services. Additionally, we need to simplify our system of incentives for businesses to focus on workforce development and recruiting talent. Doing these things will create the environment necessary for businesses to thrive, ensuring good jobs for current and future Utahns.
To fill those jobs, we’ll need an abundant, skilled workforce, which will require partnerships between our colleges, universities, businesses, and high schools. This will include bolstering our Pathways Programs, such as the Highway, IT, and Construction Pathways. In 2010, one in five immigrants in Utah worked in the construction industry, but in 2017, only two percent of Utah’s foreign-born population worked in construction. Additionally, for every five individuals retiring from the construction and trade labor force, only one replacement is being trained. This strained workforce creates risk for future development and could result in ever-increasing housing prices.
Housing is an industry in which we can’t afford to be short-staffed, as Utah’s housing market is already facing a major gap. We currently have 54,000 more households than available housing units. With the rising costs of construction materials and a low number of available units, we aren’t just facing a shortage of housing, but a shortage of affordable housing. We must work with local communities and municipalities now to create smart growth, such as neighborhoods, with a variety of housing options to address our growing population and provide options for income of all levels.
Part of that smart growth must include a comprehensive transportation plan implemented ahead of the coming crowds. We believe users of our state’s infrastructure should bear the primary responsibility of its funding while continuing state investment in multimodal forms of transportation. Having more easy-to-use, affordable options outside of individual cars on the road will make for easier commutes and fewer emissions.
Air Quality & Water Supply
Faster travel times and more commuting options will have a significant impact on Utah’s air quality, an issue that will not improve without conscious effort on behalf of all Utahns. Additionally, as the second driest state in the nation, we must also think about how our state’s water supply will be paid for and maintained over the coming years. Population growth leads to greater water needs, meaning Utahns must take steps to be more efficient and optimize our water use to keep up with demand.
Finally, we must ensure the health care of Utahns is made a top priority moving forward. In Utah, more than any other state, people purchase their health care plans through their employers. Which is why we need the business community to be more involved in the health care process, to keep costs low and ensure flexibility in care. Our health care is just as dependent on the business community as the business community is on a healthy workforce.
This list of priorities and ways to address growth is by no means exhaustive. Nevertheless, it is apparent that none of these sectors alone can have success in addressing the growth coming to Utah. We must see our industries as interconnected and dependent, knowing that the success of one relies on the success of all others.
Growth is coming to Utah. We cannot avoid it. We must take advantage of the fortunate place we are in to develop policies and plan for smart growth, determining what our lives, and the lives of our children and grandchildren, will look like in 30, 40, or even 50 years. A fuller, more vibrant Utah is coming and we must start planning how our state will adapt to the growth today.
Derek B. Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber, Utah’s largest and longest-standing business organization with members in all 29 Utah counties.