The Chamber Reflects On Utah’s Future Priorities
The dawn of a new decade gives us an opportunity to reflect on Utah’s prosperous past—our consistent economic growth, employment opportunities, and quality of life — while looking forward to a bright future for those who matter most, the individuals and families who made such success possible in the first place.
During the Salt Lake Chamber’s recent Utah Economic Outlook & Public Policy Summit we did just that, examining priorities that will guide our efforts in 2020.
Highest among those priorities is sustaining the fundamentals of Utah’s business climate by building upon policies that attract economic opportunity, create jobs, and offer security for our families. For more than a quarter-century, we have benefited from constructive relationships between the business community and our policymakers, emphasizing responsible stewardship when it comes to government budgets, taxation, and regulation. At the same time, our leaders have had the foresight to make strategic investments for the future, building infrastructure in areas as diverse as transportation and information technology, and balancing quality of life with economic development.
Utah’s business community knows the future begins with education. Tomorrow’s talented entrepreneurs, employers, and employees are sitting in our classrooms today and we must invest in their potential. The Governor’s most recent budget not only increases per-pupil spending for K-12 education with an investment of almost $300 million but focuses on making higher education more affordable. The Salt Lake Chamber champions these initiatives and will work closely on other education priorities, including the promotion of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and the arts to help students, teachers, and parents achieve even greater outcomes.
Emphasis on education will address one of the most oft-cited concerns we hear from business leaders: the need for an increasingly diverse, skilled workforce to meet demands. Workforce development partnerships between employers and our education system help address the challenges that accompany an evolving economy. With our schools turning out the best and brightest, employers must be proactive in meeting employee’s needs in the areas of inclusion, mental health, child care, and the gender wage gap. We must support strong families and offer sustainable solutions to the common barriers that cause employees to feel dissatisfaction, switch jobs, or leave the workforce entirely.
One key criterion for employees is healthcare, particularly as more than 60 percent of Utahns receive insurance through employers, the highest in the nation. As such, employers can play a larger role in promoting greater flexibility and control in costs, as well as promote reforms that apply market principles to contain currently unsustainable costs and improve health. Such reforms will require bold action to increase transparency and quality, as well as foster private sector innovation, leading to better outcomes.
Along with healthcare, another challenge we are addressing is housing. Supply has not kept up with demand, creating a situation where we have more families than homes. In fact, the current gap of 50,000 housing units continues to grow, and our economy can’t succeed long-term without addressing this disparity. Among our top priorities, this year is to promote programs that provide technical assistance to local communities as they plan for growth, specifically the connection between land use, property rights, economic development, and quality of life.
Transportation and air quality
The Salt Lake Chamber also supports continued investment in our state’s multimodal transportation network in order to expand capacity; provide choices for driving, transit, and active transportation; as well as maintain and safely operate Utah’s transportation system. Hand in hand with this priority is our focus on improving air quality. Our goal is to reduce per capita emissions by 25 percent. The Governor has proposed $100 million toward this in FY 2021, and we will work with him to create synergies between these programs to ensure blue skies for future generations.
As the voice of business in Utah, the Salt Lake Chamber is committed to a bright future. Through trusted and constructive partnerships, we will continue to grow in a way that preserves Utah not only has the best state in America but also as an international force for innovation, education, commerce, arts, and culture. In Utah, the world will see an example of what can be done when business and government work together on behalf of all those who call Utah home.