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Built to Lead

How Utah and Its First Couple are Positioned to Expand the Nation’s Most Dynamic Economy

By By Kimball Thomson | Photos by Photos by Erik Ostling

Perhaps no Utah governor in modern memory comes to the office with a broader mix of relevant experience in both the private and public sectors than Governor Gary R. Herbert, the Beehive State’s current chief executive. Governor Herbert credits an emphasis on community service and strong work ethic for preparing him to lead the nation’s most dynamic state economy.


The development of the Governor’s vision and identity has been inextricably intertwined with service to his community and state. Gary’s family moved to Orem in the early ‘50s when he was five. He has a clear sense of growing up together with his home town, watching Orem evolve from a sleepy town comprised primarily of orchards to a metropolitan hub of entrepreneurial energy. Though the Herberts lived in a succession of homes, they were all in the same neighborhood. Gary grew from child to adult as a member of the same church congregation, and attended the neighborhood elementary, junior high and high school.

A self-described “proud Orem High Tiger,” Governor Herbert was the football quarterback; captain, pitcher and 3rd-baseman for the baseball team; and captain and point guard for the basketball team. After high school, he attended Brigham Young University in the neighboring community of Provo.

Governor Herbert traces his own lifelong public service ethos and drive to his late father’s example. “My parents instilled in me the idea that giving back through community service is an essential part of life,” he recalls. “My father was my role model. He always wanted to be involved, to give back. They called him ‘Mr. Orem’ because of all of his contributions to the city of Orem.” His father’s service ranged from volunteer service with the Orem Chamber of Commerce and the beautification committee to president of the local PTA.

After serving a two-year volunteer mission for the LDS church on the Atlantic Seaboard, Gary Herbert met, fell in love with and married local girl Jeanette Snelson. Shortly after they married, Gary joined the Utah National Guard, where he served six years.


As the young couple began building their family of six children (three sons, three daughters, 13 grandchildren to date), it became apparent that they also shared a strong entrepreneurial streak. While he built a thriving real estate brokerage, Herbert & Associates, in a tough economy, Jeanette and Gary also launched The Kids Connection, a childcare service that the couple ran for 23 years.

“There is no substitute for competing and succeeding in a free market system, having to hustle to make payroll and deal with business regulations and free market challenges,” he says. “All of this experience gave me a solid foundation for the challenges of statewide office in a time of economic turmoil.”

Governor Herbert started his real estate business during the turbulent 80s, when interest rates were 16 percent and the prime rate was 22-22.5 percent— numbers that are almost unthinkable today.

Despite these challenges, he says, “I learned that freedom and opportunity come from the ability to own private property. This ability for people, through industry and drive, to own property is a major reason America’s economy has grown so much faster, creates more wealth and includes more of the population than most other countries. We were the first come to grips with giving you and me the right to own a little piece of Mother Earth.”

This experience also sensitized Governor Herbert to the need to clear away regulatory burdens that impede or cripple economic opportunity. (See Sidebar on Governor Herbert’s vision for Utah.)


In addition to shaping Governor Herbert’s vision of America’s opportunity culture, the real estate industry also presented him with his entrance into public service.

Concerned about the “stagflation” (economic stagnation and inflation) then prevalent in the real estate industry, he began lobbying for the Utah Association of Builders.

“Working with Congress through that association was how I first got into politics, and experienced my first taste of how good it felt to make a positive difference for an industry and the people it employs,” says Governor Herbert. With the encouragement of people within and outside the industry, he decided to run for office. In his first run for the Orem City Council he lost a highly competitive race by a total of 36 votes.

“I thought my political career was over after that race,” he recalls. Then in 1990 one of the Utah County Commissioners resigned to run for Congress. “I threw my hat in the ring with about 12 other people in a special election, and was fortunate to be selected.” This was the beginning of more than 14 productive years of service as a Utah County Commissioner.

His multi-faceted experience during this time included service as president of both the Utah Association of Counties and the Utah Association of Realtors, on the board of his hometown Provo-Orem Chamber of Commerce and of the Utah Water Conservancy District. All told, Governor Herbert has served on 28 separate boards, commissions and other organizations. During his tenure as commissioner, Utah County was recognized as the state’s best-managed county by the Utah Taxpayer Association.

The Governor commends local and regional governing as among the most rewarding of all forms of public service.

“I love the idea that community servants on the local level can powerfully impact how a community develops and serves its people—from commerce to education and recreation,” he says. “Some of my favorite memories involve supporting local ballparks and business parks.”

Governor Herbert’s hands-on local and regional government experience provided him with a unique vantage point that prepared him to work collaboratively with local and regional public servants.

“Local government, more than any other level, is where the rubber meets the road,” he says. “The hard-working, heavy-lifting elected officials, such as county commissioners, mayors and folks in city councils, can have an even more direct impact than government leaders on the statewide or national levels. Yet it is quite rare to find people who followed the path that I did, of moving directly from the city and local level to the governor’s office.”

Governor Herbert adds that he hopes this dynamic will change going forward. He believes it is essential for statewide government leaders to recognize local government as the most direct form of democracy, and to empower, them rather than handcuffing them, with top-down mandates. “Too often local government is treated like the poor stepchild to state government, which creates subdivisions and micromanages them from on high,” he says. “We are working diligently to change this pattern.”

Governor Herbert also points to Utah County’s mix of rural and urban concerns as a true microcosm of Utah’s overall population, effectively preparing him to lead Utah’s diverse populace. He sees Utah County’s blend of urban areas and bucolic rural communities as akin to Utah’s demographic and cultural mix—from the densely-populated narrow ribbon of real estate known as the “Wasatch Front” to the state’s diverse rural communities.

He has worked diligently on both local and regional levels to meet the needs of the people. “My administration is committed to building on Utah’s great legacy of developing innovative, award-winning economic development initiatives that bring quality jobs and careers to our state’s spectacular rural towns, so they don’t have to give up the charm and quality of life they love in order to find sustainable economic opportunities.”


One project dear to Governor Herbert illustrates the continuity in his public service career. As county commissioner, he played a hands-on role in the transition of the former Utah Trade Technical Institute into Utah Valley State College, which conferred associate degrees and prepared students for transfer into universities. Then, as Utah’s Lieutenant Governor, he was a key champion in helping the institution attain full university status as Utah Valley University (UVU). UVU is now Utah’s largest public university, with a 2011 enrollment of 33,395 students in 66 associate degrees, 58 bachelor degrees, 21 certificate/diploma programs and three masters programs.

“It has been one of the most satisfying experiences I have ever had, helping the school where I once took courses develop into a dynamic institution with innovative professional programs and rigorous research opportunities,” says Governor Herbert.

The experience also symbolizes Gary Herbert’s steadily broadening influence. In 2004, he joined then-candidate Jon Huntsman, Jr., on the Republican gubernatorial ticket. The Huntsman-Herbert team won the general election with 58 percent of the statewide vote, carrying 25 out of 29 counties.

The Huntsman-Herbert administration garnered a host of accolades for Utah, including recognition as the best-managed state by the Pew Center on the States. In 2008, the team won re-election with an extraordinary 77.7 percent of the vote.

Widely acknowledged as one of the most visible and active lieutenant governors in Utah history, Governor Herbert was positioned to hit the ground running as Governor of the Beehive State.

“I can’t imagine better preparation for serving as governor than spending five years as Lieutenant Governor, traveling the state and connecting with business and community leaders about their needs, aspirations and priorities,” says Governor Herbert. “I am fully committed to putting all these experiences to work for Utah’s citizens and business community.”

On August 11, 2009, Gary Herbert took the Oath of Office to become Utah’s 17th governor, when Huntsman accepted appointment as U.S. Ambassador to China. In 2010, Governor Herbert won a special gubernatorial election, attracting more than 64 percent of the statewide vote.


Tempered and steeled by a wealth of influences, Governor Herbert is perhaps ideally equipped to lead a state that under his stewardship has consistently been recognized as the nation’s most business friendly state and most dynamic economy. Utah has become a fixture atop national studies of fiscal soundness and other key measures of business dynamism and enlightened governance.

In January 2012, Utah garnered the top spot for economic outlook on the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) report, “Rich States, Poor States: ALEC-Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index,” for the fourth consecutive year. The study analyzes the business environment, including business-friendly legislation and regulation in each U.S. state. Study co-author Jonathan Williams recognized Utah for its pro-business policies, which “span the gamut of tax regulation and labor policy that have a predictable future that makes investment in Utah very attractive for businesses… For years, Utah has gotten things right when it comes to tax policy, regulation and labor policy.” The state’s pro-growth business policies were further validated by the “State of the Year” ranking from Business Facilities magazine.

In Q4 2011, Utah also became the two-time defending champion of the Forbes award for “Best State for Business and Careers, and earned the top spot in the most recent Business Facilities report for “Best Business Climate,” which recognizes the top national places for company expansion or relocation. In two comprehensive studies (2008 and 2010), the Kauffman Foundation’s State New Economy Index recognized Utah with the top spot in Economic Dynamism. The 2010 iteration of the Kauffman report also ranked the state first in Online Population and E-Government, third in Fastest Growing Firms and fifth for Venture Capital.

Utah’s Governor is a tireless champion of the opportunities his state provides. “I have experienced Utah’s unequalled quality of life firsthand,” he says, “and will always work to ensure and broadcast to the world that Utah is the very best place to live and to grow a business.”


Jeanette Herbert

Utah’s First Lady, Manager, and Champion

By Kimball Thomson

When Gary Herbert assumed the mantle of Utah Governor in 2009, the state’s citizens also gained an energetic, accomplished first Lady with a powerful work ethic and a deep commitment to Utah and its families.

While raising six “highly impressive” children, Jeanette Herbert also developed a vibrant entrepreneurial career—establishing a successful commercial preschool and childcare organization, the Kids Connection, which she ran for 23 years. She also served on the Provo-Orem Chamber of Commerce as chair of the Partners in education committee, on the board of the Utah Private Child Care association and as vice chair of the Utah County bicentennial Committee.


Mrs. Herbert’s multifaceted life experience taught her that every individual needs to pursue her own interests and make her own contributions. In addition to her current service on the University of Utah’s Achievement Rewards for College Scientists and Honorary Chair of the Governor’s Commission on Literacy, the First Lady has created the Uplift Utah Families Initiative (

“This project is designed to enrich parents and families through the development of healthy parenting skills, and to offer support and resources for Utah parents and families,” says Mrs. Herbert. “There is nothing more meaningful or important than positive family relation- ships. Family is the glue that keeps individuals and societies intact and growing.”


One of the key roles First Lady Herbert plays in the Governor’s office is that of champion, both for her husband and for causes near to her own heart. “I definitely see my role as that of champion–letting the Governor know that I’m behind him. I see how hard he works and how dedicated he is to protecting and improving quality of life for our state and its citizens, and I know him so well I can usually tell when he needs support, or space, or down-time.”

The demands of the Governor’s office have the potential to consume every ounce of time and energy for an office-holder—16-hour workdays are not uncommon for the Governor or Mrs. Herbert. Accordingly, the First Lady is adamant about managing the Herberts’ lives to ensure that they maintain a balance between the personal and the professional. In addition to cultivating golf as a diversion, the couple spends weekends in Utah County—where all six of their children and 13 grandchildren live—to maintain the sense of comfort, meaning and belonging that their tight-knit family imparts.

That’s where the partnership comes in for the Herberts. “We spend a lot of time together and have a strong sense of shared mission,” says the First Lady.


Throughout all her activities and achievements, Mrs. Herbert has maintained a vibrant partnership and romance with her husband of 41 years.

The first time Governor Herbert saw the state’s current First Lady, she was a diligent 19-year-old window teller at a bank in Orem. He had just returned home from two years of volunteer service in the LDS Atlantic States mission. Young Gary Herbert’s first impression of Jeanette was immediate and indelible. “When I saw Jeanette from across the room, I was struck by her warmth and energy, and knew I had to get to know her,” he says—so he asked a friend of his who worked with Jeanette at the bank to introduce them.

“I was hard at work so I didn’t see him when he came in or when he left, but I did get a peek at his car,” recalls the First Lady with a chuckle. “It was a brand-new GTO and I’m a car person.”

Based on her co-worker’s positive impression of Gary and their shared taste in cars, she agreed to meet him. “I soon learned that it was actually his uncle’s car, but by then I liked Gary so much I didn’t care,” she says. Within six months, they were married.

Six children and thirteen grandchildren later, the Herberts’ mutual affection remains unmistakable and infectious. When the Governor arrived at the Governor’s Mansion for the First Couple’s interview, he took the time to serenade the First Lady with a crisp rendition of “As Time Goes By.” Mrs. Herbert describes her husband’s displays of affection as “something he does a lot.”


Derek B. Miller

Chief of Staff to
Governor Gary R. Herbert

By Steve Gooch

Derek Miller has spent his career working to increase the efficiency of government. He first got a taste for kaizen-ing public entities after graduating from Brigham Young University with Master of Public Administration and Juris Doctor degrees. He spent several years in Washington, D.C., as a management consultant and as legal counsel on Capitol Hill.

“I worked at the nuts-and-bolts, ground level to make government more efficient,” he says. “Finding places where we can trim steps and procedures to make processes run better is key to balancing the budget—both for the state and as a nation.”

That’s not even close to lip service, considering what Miller has accomplished in a relatively short time back in Utah. He was lured away from D.C.’s glitz and tangled political web by former Governor Jon M. Huntsman, who asked Miller to be the director of the Utah Division of Real Estate in 2005. In the wake of his appointment, Miller realigned the divisions and it began posting incredible results. “My team was able to condense the time frame for processing complicated real estate license applications from five weeks to one day,” he says. “It was a complete process overhaul.”

Now, as Governor Gary R. Herbert’s Chief of Staff, Miller is working to bring a similar increase in efficiency and effectiveness to the wider Utah economic system.

Miller oversees and directs the efforts of the Governor’s Cabinet, ensuring members are focused and working toward the Governor’s goals. “Governor Herbert’s policy is to grow the economy,” says Miller. “A strong economy gives Utahns the ability to determine their own destinies and builds strong families—two critical components of the Governor’s economic plan. My job is to support the Governor on a daily and hourly basis to stay focused on what’s important.”

The Governor’s Cabinet, to a very real extent, is where the rubber meets the road. The 22 cabinet members oversee critical offices ranging from agriculture to transportation, and the work they do directly impacts Utah’s economic health. Fortunately, says Miller, the cabinet members are all focused on making the Governor’s priorities a reality for Utah’s citizens.

“A lot of people can talk about things, fewer can write them down, even fewer can execute,” he says. “I think on the execution is where this Governor and this Cabinet really succeed.”

At Governor Herbert’s behest, Miller created Utah’s Annual Work Plan, which encompasses the Governor’s vision and economic cornerstones and lays out objectives and action items that will drive the state to meet its annual goals. The plan is a roadmap for the State’s economic progress. Miller meets monthly with the “action officers” who are assigned to each action item to assess their progress and to discover areas where help might be needed.


Spencer P. Eccles

Executive Director of the
Governor’s Office of Economic Development

By Steve Gooch

C2+E2 = Success.
That’s a mantra that Spencer Eccles instills in his team at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. It looks like math, but it’s actually a more human calculus that relies on interactions and relationships to create the conditions where Utah’s economy can grow. The Cs are cooperation and collaboration; the Es are efficiency and effectiveness; the success is Utah’s future.


“Teamwork and cross-collaboration are critical to the way GOED works to bring value to the state,” says Eccles. “In a time when the taxpayer’s dollar is stretched as far as it can go, it’s vital that we use every resource to its fullest. I stress to my team that if you don’t know another department’s resources, you can’t pull them into a situation when you need them.”

As executive director of GOED, Eccles is leading the state’s already strong collaborative efforts toward new heights. Teams and departments regularly attend the same meetings because they interface so closely on related matters. These meetings are often with companies seeking to relocate or expand their operations in the state. Because such an undertaking can be complicated and wide-ranging, meetings may include specialists from GOED’s incentives team, rural development experts, and a representative of one of the State’s seven economic clusters.

In March 2012, Eccles spearheaded a move from GOED’s old offices into the new City Creek Center downtown. Taking GOED’s collaborative efforts outside the agency, the move colocated GOED with three of its regular economic collaborators: the World Trade Center of Utah, the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative and the Department of Energy Development. The agency’s other heavyweight collaborator, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, is just down the street. Together, these organizations represent the “secret sauce” of the state’s drive toward increasing public-private collaboration.


But collaboration doesn’t take place only at the government level, says Eccles: “As a government agency, we have the power to convene.” What that means is that when a representative of the Governor’s Office calls, people listen.
Two years ago, Gary Harter, the director of GOED’s clusters effort, called on several of the state’s aerospace companies to discuss the trajectory of Utah’s aerospace cluster. Representatives from Boeing, ITT Composites and others met with a GOED team to discover what efficiencies the State might be able to assist with. Discussion turned to the supply chain, and ultimately resulted in Janicki Industries — a precision composites manufacturer that contracted with each company — expanding into the Utah market.


Economic development isn’t only about bringing already successful companies into the Utah ecosystem — it’s predominantly about building and developing the workforce of today and of the future. Building a better workforce means educating and preparing people to succeed in their chosen field, whether they’re an automotive mechanic or rocket technician (Utah has plenty of both).

“People are motivated when they see that there’s opportunity,” says Eccles. “Utah’s robust, vibrant economy means that companies in the state are doing good business. When that happens, they need to hire more people. Utahns are among the most motivated people in the country, which is why we have a 97 percent high school graduation rate.”

Education is so critical to economic development that GOED works with several other public and private entities as part of the Prosperity 2020 initiative. P2020’s aim is that two-thirds of all adult Utahns will have a college degree or skilled trade certificate by 2020. P2020 is itself a public-sector partner of Governor Gary Herbert’s own Excellence in Education Commission. By working together, these two organizations have created a focused goal that will prepare our workforce for the future.


But for Eccles, scion of the state’s well-known Eccles family, growing Utah’s economy isn’t just a job, it’s more of a personal drive. “My father raised me to leave things better than I found them,” he says. “The way we get to better is by working together and having a plan with tangible results.”

The ultimate tangible result, he says, is building a Utah economy where every person who wants a job, has a job. Governor Herbert has set a goal to help make that result a reality — he wants to help Utah’s business community accelerate the creation of 100,000 jobs in 1,000 days. With a consistently high rate of job growth, it’s a reachable goal for the state. Getting across the finish line, however, requires educated Utahns and a continuing business friendly environment.

Thanks to Spencer Eccles and his team at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, that stretch goal is definitely within the realm of possibility.