Skip to Content

  • A
  • A
  • A


Economic Development 2.0

Vision and Collaboration Shaping Utah’s Future

By Andrew Dash Gillman

Governor Gary R. Herbert frequently evokes Utah’s unprecedented partnerships when describing economic momentum achieved under his administration. What is meant by “unprecedented partnerships” boils down to one word: collaboration.

Gov Herbert Alex Nabaum

For the uninitiated, collaboration may seem straightforward and easy. It is not.
Truly effective collaboration is, as Envision Utah’s president and CEO Robert Grow points out, a messy process, only made possible by hard work, good listening and incredible foresight. Utah’s unprecedented brand of collaboration means constantly revisiting plans, even the best ones, to ensure community stakeholders remain invested in the plan and aligned to common goals. Consequently, even with countless thought leaders and indices ranking Utah at or near the top of multiple economic and quality-of-life studies, Utah does not relax at the helm. Rather, the state recognizes that though there may be wind or no wind, without a good plan it does not always mean smooth sailing.
Since Utah has gained recognition on the world stage for its economic success and thoughtful management, some people have taken the step to join in that success, and many are watching—they are waiting to see if Utah can sustain its new spot on the global business stage. Utah’s leaders are working to stay successful by building on the well-crafted, solid foundation that has been laid.
Four years removed from the drafting of Economic Development Plan 1.0, Plan 2.0 is forming as a major new vision strategy and action plan that works to Utah’s strengths and is designed to reinforce Utah’s economy in the present while simultaneously positioning Utah to stay ahead and continue to lead well into the future.
Plan 2.0 capitalizes on Utah’s successes. It emphasizes state and local government, all levels of education, and perhaps most importantly, visionary business people in the private sector who are executing at the highest level in pursuit of continuing excellence. With the confidence to thrive and grow within Utah’s business-friendly environment, it is private sector leadership that engages the community, works with local and state government, and continues to create quality jobs and solid economic growth for
In fact, job creation stands in the front row of Economic Development 2.0’s goal: “Utah will excel in job creation, innovation, entrepreneurship, global business, and quality workforce and have a stable and sustainable business-friendly environment.”
As Governor Herbert has said, and Utah has demonstrated, excellence in these arenas has helped Utah achieve its vision, as stated in Plan 1.0, to “lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premier global business destination.”
As a result of achieving this vision, Utah delegations have been welcomed on trade and diplomatic missions throughout the world. The achievement has also maintained stability at home, including a strong export economy, top small business loan value per household, a continuous AAA bond rating and an unemployment rate among the lowest in the nation.

Built on the “four cornerstones” of education, job growth, energy and self-determination, which are now deeply embedded in Utah’s fertile economic soil, Governor Herbert and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), led by Executive Director Spencer P. Eccles, continue to collaboratively execute on the “four objectives” established by the initial economic development plan, but freshly tuned to meet the new and shifting challenges that face Utah in the coming years. These objectives are to:
1. Strengthen and grow existing Utah businesses, both urban and rural
2. Increase innovation, entrepreneurship and investment
3. Increase national and international business
4. Prioritize education to develop the workforce of the future

A Quality Growth Strategy

One of the state’s partners, Envision Utah, is working proactively to help the state prepare for an additional 2.5 million residents by 2050, or 5.4 million people in total. Envision Utah is a nonprofit, public-private partnership promoting quality growth across a range of key issues by engaging communities and understanding their values. Through the “Your Utah, Your Future” initiative, Envision Utah seeks to help incorporate and empower residents in the planning process to facilitate Utah’s growth without sacrificing quality of life.
As a statewide initiative, “Your Utah, Your Future” rallies a diverse group of stakeholders around eight top issues by organizing large, engaged task forces with expertise in each area to help collect public input and frame Utah’s best options to move forward. The issues underlie or inform multiple areas of Economic Development 2.0, and also take on economic growth as a whole. Some of the areas addressed are air quality, water, housing and cost of living, economic development, education, transportation and communities, energy, and a task force focused on natural lands, agriculture and recreation.

The initiative builds on a foundation laid by Envision Utah’s original quality growth strategy, which was the result of a visioning process executed from 1997 to 1999.
Robert Grow says the visioning process gets people to think through multiple perspectives by actually showing alternative virtual futures in scenarios and enabling them to make informed decisions in their spheres of influence.
The original strategy featured four future growth scenarios that Grow calls “groundbreaking” because they showed Utahns that the area was no longer “just a small town in the West with an agriculture and mineral base, but that we’re becoming a major urban area.”
The scene mirrors one put forth by Governor Herbert in his 2014 State of the State, where he describes the time when Governor William Spry cemented the cornerstone of Utah’s capitol building in 1914, and how the people wondered why the building was so big given Utah’s small population: “The answer is simple. They were not building for what they were. They were building for what Utah will become.”
Grow says as part of his planning work, he’s consulted on quality growth in about 90 regions around the country. With their focus on collaborative outcomes, Grow finds Utahns are uniquely inclusive in their ability to find common ground on various topics, even amid occasional squabbles.
“Collaboration is not an easy process. It’s a messy process,” Grow says. “It’s always easier to get your friends together who agree with you and decide what to do. But collaboration is a challenging effort of listening to every perspective, respecting every perspective then saying how do we model [that choice] into the future. If you think this is a good choice, then let’s see how that would play out 20 years or 30 or 35 years from now.”

Statewide Focus

Governor Herbert has been a direct participant in planning and strategy development from the very beginning. He was a Utah County Commissioner when Envision Utah’s original strategy was launched. Grow describes a county under Herbert’s watch that was booming and changing its base from mining and mineral extraction to a high-tech economy. The lessons learned from that experience have been carried forward into the successful diversification of the entire state economy, now recognized as the fourth-most-diverse economy in the nation.
It is no coincidence that Utah’s overall economy has shifted and diversified along a similar path as Utah County, or that the State of Utah has directed its economic development, business growth and recruitment efforts toward that goal.
“Freed from locational factors like mineral and agricultural resources, Utah’s leaders have recognized how important it is that Utah compete and compete well for future businesses and to strengthen and expand its existing industry clusters and businesses,” Grow says.
That is exactly what Utah has done, almost quietly and systematically, until the Great Recession pushed Utah into the spotlight. On its strengths of a diversified and resilient economic base and an educated, ethical and productive workforce, companies have increasingly looked to Utah for expansion, as the state found itself engulfed in “Best State for Business” acclaim.
As Utah emerged as an economic leader, several key industry clusters were strengthened thanks to good planning and fiscal responsibility. IT/software, finance, aerospace and defense, and life sciences all grew as mainstays in the Utah business environment. Adding to those key parts of the economic landscape, Utah renewed its commitment to the state’s renowned outdoor recreation economy. The resources, iconic landscapes, pristine backcountry and a commitment to sustaining and enhancing its quality of life make Utah’s success even easier to understand why it emerged as a top destination for business growth and relocation.
Utah’s complete portfolio has been integrated as a global “Utah: Life Elevated®” brand under the guidance of Vicki Varela, GOED’s director of tourism, film and global branding. Varela hopes the brand will unite passionate Utahns as well as those who have “adopted” the state as ambassadors of the brand. Given the importance of the tourism economy to Utah’s rural counties, it is a key component of objective three’s goal to increase national and international business through tourism as the “More than Meets the Eye” story describes.

A Holistic Approach

The Governor’s Economic Council (GEC) is a private-public assembly at the heart of Economic Development 2.0 that leverages GOED’s power to convene and to coordinate statewide goals around economic development activity. Other partners include World Trade Center Utah (WTCU), Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR), Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah), Utah Capital Investment Corporation (Formerly the Utah Fund of Funds), the Governor’s Rural Partnership Board and multiple business support resources.
The GEC has supported Envision Utah’s planning efforts, along with critical vision documents like the Utah Department of Transportation’s Unified Transportation Plan, which was approved by Governor Herbert.
Spencer Eccles, GOED executive director, likewise focuses on broad-spectrum business growth throughout the state.
“Economic Development 2.0 addresses a wide range of issues. There are elements of air quality, infrastructure enhancements, tourism growth, economic clusters, and the energy initiatives and regulatory considerations that make business a sustainable prospect in Utah. Then we see how we can diversify Utah’s economy and from that grow its export economy, such as aggressively diversifying value-added exports 75 percent by 2016. We do this by increasing our trade and export services thanks to strong relationships in our key export partner countries. As our visibility and reputation grow, we are continuing to see increased capital investment in Utah,” says Eccles.
It is easy to understand the state’s holistic approach to economic development even though there are a lot of ambitious goals in their objectives. Sophia DiCaro, deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), who fills the COO role at GOED, points to the economic development plan’s foundation for addressing how Utah will achieve its goals:
“Collaboration and partnership are our guiding principles, so we convened many stakeholder roundtable meetings including both private sector and public leaders that produced a lot of dialogue about specific challenges and how broad or narrow the economic development goals for Utah should be going forward. We listened, and then captured the thoughts and priorities of each group, as a result of having everyone around the table. This process helped us not only be efficient, but also ensured there are no overlapping efforts.”
The results have proven successful, since multiple third party organizations have hailed Utah as a best performing economy and a premier global business destination.

Building for the Future

Eccles especially enjoys objective two, which is dedicated to “increasing the velocity of business” by focusing on innovation, entrepreneurship and investment. It promotes deepening relationships with the state’s entrepreneurship ventures, incubators and foundries to help grow Utah’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and innovation economy.
“If we can identify what we want to look like tomorrow and work together, we can identify costs in order to prioritize what’s most important. Each objective costs a lot of money so we have to have dialogue, model the future and see what elements of each issue rise to the top to decide what needs to be prioritized,” Eccles says. “We have a culture that is innovative and forward thinking, and driven by a deeply rooted entrepreneurial spirit. It is important that we make sure we help plan and support a space wherein innovation thrives. By strengthening and perfectly articulating our highly regarded science, technology and research model, for example, we can continue to expand Utah’s university-based innovation capacity.”
Objective four prioritizes education. Utah’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) initiatives and coordination among higher education bodies effectively prioritize educational outcomes to help develop the workforce needed to meet private-sector demands now and in the future. To this end, tens of millions of dollars have been added specifically to STEM education by the legislature at the same time it is adding hundreds of millions more to overall improvements in both public and higher education. The state is clearly aware that the educational foundation of its residents is equally important as investment into its infrastructure.
Exemplifying collaboration in Utah’s education arena is Utah’s Cluster Acceleration Partnership (UCAP), which Eccles says is a structured system collaboratively built and accelerated with a careful allocation of funds. He describes a specific example where UCAP was able to help Utah’s workforce close the final gap to fill an industry need:
“Utah has a large, resilient and rapidly growing life science cluster. But when we met with representatives in the industry to get feedback, we learned that there wasn’t enough training, experience or knowledge in regulatory affairs. Working collaboratively with industry leaders and academic officials at the University of Utah and Utah Valley University, we addressed that gap by creating new programs in the field.”
Eccles goes on to say that by adding a new full-time life science cluster director in the office, GOED was acting on industry feedback. The new director supports the industry’s fast-paced climate of innovation and helps address regulatory hurdles.
Ultimately, education and workforce are highly intertwined. To Eccles, that means action is a four-dimensional collaboration, inclusive of time and recognizing the demographic shifts in our population that are occurring. Nothing can be done in a silo.
“Demographic shifts occurring now will define our future education needs and future markets. Fortunately, despite rapid change, we have kept our government small and nimble in order to stay ahead of trends, to engender stability in policy and to support a confident private sector. We can get stakeholders on the same page based on stability and confidence. That kind of trust engenders a climate of inclusivity, which is essential for our long-term success.”
Robert Grow adds, “When a company comes to Utah, or a homegrown business asks, ‘What will it be like here if we invest in your community for the next 25 years?’ We can show them a vision and a plan which says this is what it will be like, this is where we are going, and here is how we’re going to get there.”
Economic Development 2.0 builds on Utah’s competitive assets and economic momentum, and welcomes public involvement and promotes collaboration so that the next generation of Utahns will benefit from the successes of the present work.