What Role Does Convenience Play in Economic Development?

Pete CodellaArticles

Last year Travel+Leisure ranked Salt Lake City International Airport the most punctual airport in America, the fifth such ranking for the airport since 2008. More than 90 percent of the flights out of Salt Lake City depart on time for 12 hours each day, according to the travel site.

What does that have to do with economic development, you ask? It’s part of the convenience factor that makes Utah such a great place to do business.

EDCUtah“In economic development, we tend to focus on the more quantitative nuts and bolts numbers, such as cost of real estate, cost of labor, incentive potential, energy costs, tax rates and labor force,” says EDCUtah COO Todd Brightwell. “But there is a degree of convenience that is subliminal, yet significant and it plays into the projects we work on.”

For example, a visiting company’s executives can fly into Salt Lake City, land at the nation’s most on-time airport, hop on a TRAX train outside the gate and for about $2.50 arrive downtown in 15 minutes. After an introduction at EDCUtah’s office, the executives are taken by car for an overview of the area, driving the wide city streets and the modern interstate.

“Almost without fail, within one or two days of the site visit the visiting executives will comment about how convenient it is to travel here; how easy it is to get in and out of the airport,” Brightwell continues. “The convenience factor is difficult to quantify because it may mean something different to each person, but it is certainly noticeable to the people we bring to Utah for site visits.”

There are a few metrics that highlight the convenience Utahns enjoy, but often take for granted. A recent traffic study by Texas A&M University notes that in Washington D.C. the average commuter spends an additional 82 hours a year sitting in traffic – nearly 3.5 days per year beyond their normal commute time. In Los Angeles the number is 80 hours. In the Salt Lake City/West Valley Metro the average commuter spends 37 extra hours. And in the Provo/Orem metro it is 21 hours.

Another aspect of the convenience factor is the ease in which Utahns can access recreation. Locals may take it for granted, but EDCUtah Chief Marketing Officer Mike Flynn says visitors recognize it almost immediately. “In about an hour you can travel from the airport to the state’s major ski resorts. In 15 minutes you can leave downtown and arrive in the mountains. In about 30 minutes you can arrive at a major lake or reservoir. Access to recreation in Utah is phenomenal,” he adds.

The convenience factor is a big part of our quality of life and busy executives recognize in Utah they will have more opportunities to spend time with their families and more time to recreate. It’s part of the work/life balance that people crave, Flynn notes. “The convenience factor may not drive a business’ relocation or expansion decision, but it moves way up the list of priorities when the person making the decision will be involved in the move. A busy executive will not want to move to a place where he or she has to spend two hours commuting, or suffering through delays and inefficiencies at the airport,” he explains.

Erin Laney, EDCUtah’s director of business development, notes that convenience comes into play in other areas besides transportation, recreation and quality of life. She points to Gov. Gary Herbert’s initiative in 2011 to review all of the state regulations on the books. That effort, she says, made it more convenient to do business in Utah. “I doubt that in 2011 there were many people that said Utah is an onerous place to do business,” Laney continues, “but that didn’t stop Gov. Herbert from saying, ‘We have roughly 2,000 regulations. Let’s look at them to see what we can eliminate and what we can streamline.’ Out of that review came 360 changes; some big, some small, but all with the focus on making it easier to do business in Utah. That’s not a trivial thing.”

A challenge for the state now is how to preserve the convenience factor, especially as the population increases and congestion gets worse. Brightwell points to the terminal redevelopment program at the Salt Lake International Airport as a bold step that will lead to more capability and efficiency in terms of moving people through the airport and helping the airlines continue to depart on time. Another bold move took place when the Salt Lake Chamber led an effort to change the 30-year transportation plan to a 15-year transportation plan.

“Visitors come to Utah and quickly realize how easy it is to get around. That’s something we need to protect,” he says. “The airport expansion and the state’s investments in mass transit are great examples of not sitting idle or accepting the status quo. As we invest in our infrastructure we help protect the conveniences we enjoy and that will have a long term impact on economic development.”

Republished courtesy of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah – www.edcutah.com