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Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert’s Vision for Expanding Utah’s National and Global Leadership

By Kimball Thomson | Photos by Erik östling

Upon assuming the mantle of leadership in August of 2009, Utah Governor Gary Herbert developed—and publicized—a truly audacious vision for his state.
“Our vision was to lead out as the nation’s strongest-performing economy and to be widely recognized as a premier global business destination,” says Governor Herbert. “This was not a government-driven vision; they were the shared goals of courageous business, education and government leaders throughout the state.”
At the time, he acknowledges, even friends and allies expressed concerns that his stated goals lay beyond the reach of an inland state of less than 3 million residents, whose largest city has a population of less than 200,000. “People close to me were worried we may be setting ourselves up for embarrassment, or even failure,” he says.

Erik östling

Realizing the Vision: Keeping the Promise of Economic Vitality

When his predecessor accepted the call to serve as the U.S. ambassador to China, Governor Herbert used his first inaugural address to issue a collaborative call to action. “That day five years ago, I talked about the need for us to have unprecedented partnerships—and if we would develop unprecedented partnerships, we would have unlimited possibilities. Together, we entered the ring and engaged the population giants around the country, and emerged victorious.”
Less than four years later, Governor Herbert’s initial vision has been validated to a degree that even optimistic observers would never have predicted.

America’s Most Dynamic Economy

In August 2013, Pollina Corporate, for the second consecutive year, recognized Utah as the nation’s “number one Pro-Business State,” weighing a series of key indicators related to the environment created for business in the state. Prior to the two years of first place, Utah held second place in each of the three previous years.

Respected analyst Brent Pollina described Utah as “America’s most pro-business state … Utah is a symbol of economic growth and prosperity that other states should emulate.” The state’s proactive business-friendly approach and pro-growth focus helped it improve from No. 23 in 2005 to No. 2 by 2009, before supplanting Virginia for the top spot.
Using a different set of criteria, Forbes magazine also ranked Utah for three consecutive years in the top spot of its “Best States for Business and Careers” rankings. Utah remained strong at No. 3 in 2013, behind only Virginia and South Dakota.
Entrepreneurs find Utah to be the best setting in the U.S. to build their businesses. A 2013 nationwide survey of 7,766 small business owners by the Kauffman Foundation and Thumbtack found that Utah received the nation’s highest grades in an inclusive set of criteria that ranges from support for entrepreneurship to ease of starting a business, unobtrusive regulation, qualified workforce, fair tax burden and other key indicators.

Despite its relatively small population and early dependency on one or two key sectors, Utah has been recognized as the fourth most diverse economy in the United States. Its multifaceted industry base and entrepreneurial ventures are the backbone of the state’s economic vitality. In the life sciences, every major company or division—from homegrown dynamos such as Myriad Genetics, Merit Medical and ARUP Laboratories to large divisions of Actavis, Bard, BD, Fisher Scientific, Fresenius, GE Healthcare, Teva and Varian—began as an entrepreneurial venture in Utah.
In the computer technology arena, Utah is a global leader for engineers, as major divisions of Intel and Micron (IM Flash), Adobe’s Omniture division, Sorenson Communications and a host of vibrant young entrepreneurial companies attest. High-tech manufacturing finds a good home in Utah as well as leading consumer companies such as Procter & Gamble, which a few years ago built its first fully “green field” manufacturing plant in 40 years in Utah. “From aerospace and advanced materials to life sciences, IT and financial services, Utah is a world-class destination for entrepreneurs and for established players,” says Governor Herbert.

Great Communities, Great Neighbors

The state’s communities also over-perform extraordinarily in measures of economic opportunity and quality of life, with their abundance of economic and recreational opportunities and eye-popping scenery.
Salt Lake City was found to be the U.S. city that provided economically disadvantaged individuals with the best opportunity to attain their dreams, in a comprehensive 2014 study by The Equality of Opportunity Project led by Harvard and UC Berkeley, which used millions of anonymous earnings records to map the 10 best and worst U.S. cities for economic mobility.
The information technology Mecca of Provo was recognized as the fifth best city for both technology and business by the Milken Institute in 2014, up two places from the year before.
Provo and Salt Lake City were both named among the top five cities in Milken Institute’s list of the 15 Best Performing Cities in the U.S. Salt Lake City was also named the Best City for Kids by MSN Real Estate, and the second best city for people who are young, broke and single, due to the relatively low cost of living, large community of people under 30, excellent public transportation and short commute times. A high quality of life is important to Utah’s residents, and Utah delivers.
In addition to the safe, appealing communities they live in, Utah residents are surrounded by neighbors with a strong ethos of public service. As reported in the Corporation for National and Community Service’s “Volunteering and Civic Life in America” 2013 report, for the eighth consecutive year, Utah led the nation in volunteerism, with an extraordinary 47.7 percent of Utahns volunteering their time, compared with the national average of 26.5 percent.

People throughout Utah can join their civic-minded neighbors in a dizzying array of recreational activities. Residents along the Wasatch Front can ski at one of four resorts ranked among the top eight in the nation by The Active Times (Deer Valley No. 2, Alta No. 5, Park City No. 7 and Snowbird No. 8). Culture seekers can go to the global pioneering Sundance Film Festival, the Tony Award-winning Utah Shakespeare Festival and the stunning Tuacahn Center for the Arts and Amphitheatre.
Utah residents also have access to excellent healthcare as recognized by the Wall Street Journal and a recent Dartmouth study which also noted Utah as one of the most cost-effective states in the nation.

America’s Most Popular Governor

Utah’s chief executive is beginning to capture attention for his role in the extraordinary success of his state. Early in 2014, the Washington Post named the Beehive State’s governor the nation’s most popular, from either party, among his constituents.
Governor Herbert is similarly respected and admired among his peers. He becomes the vice chair of the National Governor’s Association July 2014, and is slated to become the chair in 2015, having received the votes of all 30 Republican governors nationwide.

Collaborative Prescription for Transformation:
The Utah Path Forward

Success of the nature and degree that Utah has experienced doesn’t just happen organically or unaided. Nor could it have been driven solely by top-down government action. Rather, it is the result of thoughtful design and purposeful, cooperative action.
“Politics is so often confrontational in nature, but I’m more of a collaborator,” says Governor Herbert. “I am conservative in principle, moderate in my tone and inclusive in process. I believe in bringing people around the table and asking them to tell me their problems. ‘What are your issues? I’m listening. Let’s reason together as to how we can solve the problems we face.’”
Success in establishing a workable partnership does not happen in a vacuum. “I listen to the people in my state and we look at what is happening around the country and the rest of the world,” he says. “Then we come up with a Utah pathway forward. You can’t do that in isolation. Sitting down and listening is absolutely key. And talking and dialoguing together in creating a pathway forward. That’s why we have had such great success economically thus far, and why we will continue to achieve great things as a state going forward.”
Having fulfilled the initial vision of leading the nation as the top-performing economy and becoming known as a global destination to build a business, Utah entered a new phase in our development as a state, says Governor Herbert. “Now we are working to maintain and build upon our position.”
On January 1, 2012, Governor Herbert issued a statewide challenge, calling upon Utah’s private sector to create 100,000 jobs in the next 1,000 days.
“We established this as a significant stretch goal, as our state and nation were emerging from the prolonged effects of a Great Recession,” he says. “As of March 1, 2014, after 2.5 years, I am happy to report that we are at 85,500 new jobs created in the state. Whether we exceed the ultimate goal in the next four months or not, it has been a significant victory for Utah, its employers and its workforce.”
As of March 1, the state was nearing full employment, with only a 3.9 percent unemployment rate, and was achieving job growth of 2.8 percent for 2014, well ahead of the pace nationally.To help ensure and maintain the realization of this phase of his vision for the state, Governor Herbert and his team established a mission statement for the state.

“Here is what we are committed to: Utah will excel in job creation, innovation, entrepreneurship, global business and maintaining a quality workforce. We will have a stable, sustainable business-friendly environment.” Utah is successfully meeting the challenge posed by reaching a goal—that is the challenge to maintain the lofty success, and Governor Herbert is confident that the collaboration among the private sector, education and government is moving Utah forward into the future.

Fiscal Soundness and Discipline

For government, Governor Herbert sees a strong but limited role: “For a state government to support economic growth and prosperity, it needs to stay small, nimble, proactive and effective. I am happy to say that we have fewer state employees today than we had in 2001, lessening the burden on the private sector and the citizens of Utah. But we are finding a way to get more done.”
This fiscal discipline, an enduring hallmark of Utah state government, has resulted in 49 consecutive years of AAA bond ratings for the state and a balanced budget with an active rainy day fund. Utah is one of a handful of states with top ratings from all three major ratings agencies.
The bottom line for Governor Herbert is that private-sector growth is the key to a growing, expanding economy. “The government plays a key role in making sure there are regulations to protect people and keep the playing field level,” he says. “We also need to help create opportunity by ensuring excellent educational opportunities for our citizens, which is a challenge we need to address with courage and creativity on an ongoing basis.”
The Herbert administration is a strong supporter of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. In 2013, the Utah legislature passed a comprehensive STEM center initiative that helps gather and disseminate best practices in rigorous STEM teaching and learning approaches throughout the state.
The Governor is also a strong believer in the arts. “If we couple the creativity that quality arts instruction provides students with excellent STEM instruction provides, we will be providing something very special,” he says. “I like to call it STEAM education, and I want us to do it with excellence in K-12 and throughout the higher education system.”
Governor Herbert has continually demonstrated his commitment to supporting education at all levels in Utah, not only by supporting STEM education, charter schools and other initiatives, but also by convening a commission that includes key industry, government and education leaders to match the needs of industry with the state’s strategic direction. He has also been the most active governor in recent memory in finding additional funding for schools beyond the personal and corporate income tax that funds Utah’s public schools.

Empowering and Partnering with the Private Sector

As important as the government’s fundamental role and strengths are, they do not extend to economic value creation, Governor Herbert argues. That is the domain of the private sector.
“Government just takes and redistributes wealth. It doesn’t do a good job of creating it,” he says. “We understand the importance of the private sector. If you’re going to have a growing expanding economy, it comes only with unleashing the power of private-sector opportunity: the entrepreneurs and the established businesses that find new ideas and innovation to create wealth. That is the magic and wonder of Utah, and America, in my estimation. We want to make sure that government doesn’t stifle growth by getting too big or too intrusive.”

Listening to Industry

In a very real way, Governor Herbert sees business as a crucial part of government’s “customer base.” Throughout his tenure as governor, he has actively sought the input of business leaders throughout the state. Toward the end of his time as lieutenant governor, he heard continued feedback from industry that Utah had an insufficient transportation infrastructure. So he convened a transportation summit to gather feedback and develop a plan.
“You want to talk to the customer, don’t you? It’s really about customer service,” he says. “We heard from the business community that if you want us to succeed economically, you’d better make sure that we get from point A to point B more efficiently. You’re not building enough roads and you’re not keeping up with the congestion.”
The result was a multi-faceted transportation infrastructure campaign. The nation’s largest current transportation construction project, the $1.7 billion campaign included a highly popular commuter light rail system, several new highways and major improvements to existing roadways throughout the state.
“We took industry’s suggestions to heart and increased our transportation infrastructure 10-fold,” says Governor Herbert. “This has already been a real positive on so many levels. We are building infrastructure for today and tomorrow. This has all been done with Utah money, without the strings attached with federal dollars, so the project was completed under time and under budget. It was a direct result of the partner relationship we have with industry.”

Boeing: A Case Study in Business-Government Partnership

The Boeing Company has a strong and growing presence in the state of Utah. With more than 800 employees and almost 1,300 retirees currently living in the state, the company’s footprint already extends much further than its direct employment. The company currently utilizes approximately 250 Utah companies as suppliers and had made more than $220 million vendor purchases as of March 1, 2014. In addition, the company’s wide-ranging charitable contributions are approaching $600,000.
Currently Boeing is developing an 877,000-square-foot facility on the aptly named Prosperity Lane in West Jordan. The facility will house work on the 787 airliner and other projects.
“This building is bona fide business-government collaboration at work,” says Larry Coughlin, general manager at Boeing Salt Lake. “We were hoping to expand our Utah operations beyond our location near the airport, but weren’t having much success.”
As the Boeing Utah leadership team weighed options, struggling to find the fit they hoped for in Utah, they received a surprise phone call from Governor Gary Herbert’s team.
“We could barely believe our ears,” Coughlin recalls. “To get a direct call from the Governor and his team in such a key time, telling us they may have found a good option for us. And the truth is, this facility and location have been phenomenal for us, from a cost standpoint to the ability to get up and running quicker and more efficiently than otherwise would have been possible. The bottom line is that we would not be here without the proactive help of the Governor and his team.”
When the company was considering moving the manufacturing for its new 777X large passenger airliner away from its Washington manufacturing facilities, Governor Herbert says, “I was honored by the fact that they told me my office was the first number they called. Ultimately they decided to keep that operation in Washington, but the fact that we are that high on their radar screen is an example of the significant sea change that has taken place in people’s thought process and perspective of Utah as a place for business.”

“Boeing has long been a great, great partner,” says Governor Herbert. “We look forward to a long, productive and growing partnership with them.”
The Boeing team is even more impressed with the Utah workforce than with the facility. “I’ve worked all around the world,” says Coughlin. “I have found the Utah workforce to be top-notch throughout all areas of the organization.”
The Boeing story, still developing and unfolding in many positive ways, is a compelling illustration of the productive power of effective collaboration between Utah’s public and private sectors.

Partnering with the World

Governor Herbert’s collaborative vision not only encompasses partnership between government, industry and education entities within the state. It also extends beyond Utah’s borders.
For example, when Michigan’s newly elected governor several years ago embraced key elements of Utah’s economic development approach—including hiring away the state’s director of budget—that state quickly moved from 50th to 23rd on the Forbes rankings of America’s best states for business and careers.
Economic development for Governor Herbert is not a zero sum game. “Michigan’s gain is not our loss. The rising tide of economic expansion raises all boats on the pond, the big boats and the little boats,” says Governor Herbert with a smile. “That is a great principle, and we understand that here in Utah. Economic expansion means everybody wins.”
Utah’s current governor sees every state, and indeed every nation, as a potential partner for Utah. On a recent trade mission to Israel, President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remarked on the kindred spirit that seems to exist between Israel and Utah—beyond the namesakes Mount Nebo, a River Jordan running between a freshwater lake and an inland saltwater sea, and Moab.
“They said they recognize that Utah’s doing something that is pretty remarkable and see Utah as a global leader in how to grow an economy, as we help lead the U.S. in recovering from the Great Recession,” says Governor Herbert. “They love the association and affinity they have with Utah and are actively looking to expand their companies here.”
The element of competition between regions and nations is not lost on Governor Herbert. On the most recent trade mission to China, he says, some government leaders said, “‘We have things to learn from Utah, but we will catch you.’ There is certainly competition in that comment. As other places catch on to what we are doing—whether it be other states or other nations—we will need to continue to raise our game. It is tough to get to the top, as we did. It will be even tougher to stay there. The good news is that we can, and we will. I have never been more bullish on Utah.”
A sixth-generation Utahn, Governor Herbert remains a tireless champion and advocate for his state. His energy and enthusiasm only seem to accelerate as he moves through grueling 85-hour work weeks, fueled by his passionate belief in his home state.
“This is a very special place, like no other—not just for families like mine, but for individuals and families everywhere,” he says. “For those who come here and plant their seeds, I am a firm believer that their chances of growing up a crop that is excellent and profitable is better than if they go to any other state.”

Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox
Building on a Legacy of Job
Creation and Public Service


As Utah’s “CEO,” one of Governor Gary Herbert’s most crucial partnerships is with his partner in leadership, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. As Cox assumed office in 2013, he brought with him a rich heritage of homegrown job creation, public service and enduring family ties.

Leaving Sanpete

The Cox family’s roots run deep in Fairview, an idyllic town of some 1,200 residents in central Utah’s scenic Sanpete County. Cox is a sixth-generation resident. “We don’t get out very often,” he says with a chuckle. “Every ancestor from my great-grandfather on down is buried in Fairview Cemetery.”
Cox’s wife, Abby, is from the neighboring town of Mount Pleasant, where the two were high school sweethearts at North Sanpete High.
“She told me, ‘Yes, I’ll marry you … but enjoy your time at BYU. I am going to Utah State,’” he says.
Cox opted to change his plans and move to Logan with Abby. After graduating, Cox moved to Washington, D.C. with Abby to attend Washington & Lee Law School and finished fifth in his class.
“After we moved away from Sanpete County, I swore we would never move back,” he says. Cox worked at the Salt Lake headquarters of Fabian & Clendenin, a successful law firm with offices in Washington, DC, and Las Vegas.
“Even though I had a great job, I asked Abby whether we were making the world a better place; the answer for both of us was not really,” he recalls. “And we missed having our families nearby.”

Returning Home

So in 2003, the couple decided to return to Fairview, where Cox accepted a job as vice president and general counsel for CentraCom, a CLEC telecom and high-speed internet company. Cox’s primary focus was on driving business development for the company. The analytical skills he picked up from his legal training served him well in his new role, and he learned that he had a genuine flair for business development.
“We got busy and I’m proud to say that in the 10 years I was there, we more than doubled the size of the company,” he says. The company expanded from telecom to high-capacity fiber in urban Utah and Salt Lake counties as well as rural Utah.
“I love the practice of law, but even more I love helping build a business that develops the local economy and creates quality jobs for people,” he says.
As he helped grow the business and local economy, Cox felt another calling—to public service. He served successively as a member of the Fairview City Council, mayor and Sanpete County commissioner, before being elected as a Utah House Representative in 2012.
One formative influence in Cox’s life in public service life was his experience as co-chair of Governor Herbert’s Rural Partnership Board (GOPB). He says, “The primary questions are how do we create jobs and grow the economy in rural areas? I always ask is there any part of anything we do in the government in Utah that doesn’t impact economic development? The answer is no. Everything we do has an economic impact.”

Embracing the Call to Serve

No one was more surprised than Spencer Cox when he received the invitation to replace his mentor Greg Bell as lieutenant governor. “I was a freshman member of the House—and Fairview and its sister communities aren’t exactly electoral powerhouses, should the Governor choose to run for re-election,” he says and smiles. “It isn’t Salt Lake, Utah, Davis or Weber County, where voting population is dense. The appointment decision shows that for Governor Herbert, governing effectively is more important, rather than re-election, and that he is committed to being the governor of the entire state.”
This impression is further reinforced by other areas of the new lieutenant governor’s core assignments: dedicated outreach with the nation’s fastest-growing Hispanic community (by percentage of population growth), and with young residents. “These are two groups of people that will have an extraordinary impact on the future of Utah, and it is crucial that we fully involve them in our state’s political and economic life,” he says. “I love spending time and learning from them.”
The lieutenant governor has embraced the opportunity to work with Governor Herbert, one of the most active former occupants of that post in the state’s history.
“I feel like I won the lottery and am incredibly humbled he would even consider having me serve in this capacity,” Cox says. “This is a job where you can do nothing or you can be involved in everything, and the governor prefers that I be involved in everything. This is a team effort, and I think if there’s a governor in history of the State of Utah that works harder than Gary Herbert, I can’t name him. I don’t know how he does it. He is a whirlwind.”