Cornerstones of Success

A well-managed economy sticks out like a beacon in the aftermath of an economic downturn. One such beacon in the US economy is Utah, according to according to Director of Communications Michael Sullivan and Director of Marketing Michael O’Malley, both of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

Sullivan and O’Malley say that Governor Gary Herbert’s vision of Utah as an example of a well-managed economy is being realized by strengthening the four cornerstones of the state which the governor has called out: Jobs, Education, Energy and Self-determination.

In the last blog, we covered the basic blocking and tackling tactics at which Utah excels, like responsible fiscal management and encouraging small businesses. In this installment of “Branding Utah,” we examine Governor Herbert’s leadership contributions to Utah’s wellbeing.

“I have been impressed by the governor’s intense focus on building the economy of the state,” says O’Malley. “He sees that success as a means to pay for better education and services for the residents.”
Sullivan lists four cornerstones upon which Governor Herbert has helped build Utah, the first of which is job creation. Utah has taken many steps to work toward employment for all Utahns, including tax rebates and incentives for companies who create jobs. As a result, Utah’s unemployment rate is well below the national average, with more than 45,000 jobs created in 2012 alone.

“The more diversity in our economy and the more high-paying jobs we can bring in, the higher everyone’s standard of living will be,” O’Malley adds.
The next cornerstone Sullivan names is education. He noted education’s estimates that Utah has about 665,000 children in school today. “That’s a lot of kids who are going to be looking for jobs in the future,” he says, pointing out that under Governor Herbert’s direction and with the support of the legislature, Utah added more than $450 million in new money to the multi-billion dollar education budget over the last two years to help prepare the youth for gainful employment in the future.

Sullivan referred to various news stories in which Utah was ranked among the lowest in the nation in terms of education spending per student. However, he contends that such a measure inaccurately reflects Utah’s efforts. Because Utah has a young population, many of whom are in school and not earning money, the education spending per capita used to measure “educational commitment” in the stories is lower than in states that have a much older population. Thus, the statistic is skewed in favor of states with older populations. A better measure, one that puts every state on equal footing, would be the percentage of every dollar earned that ends up going toward education as measured by the US Department of Commerce. With this measure, Utah is in the middle of the state rankings for contributions to education as a part of every dollar earned.

But even that more reasonable measurement does not fully represent or explain the generally successful effort and achievement of Governor Herbert and the State of Utah to support education. Very few people have studied the Utah constitution enough to know that, by law, 100 percent of Utah income tax goes toward education; only sales tax collections are used to support other governmental functions, including additional funds that the legislature have added to Utah’s educational effort.

In addition to the governmental effort, the private sector has stepped up and is partnering with the governor toward a goal which will encourage 66 percent of adults to earn a college degree or post-secondary certificate by 2020. Currently about 42 percent of the state’s workforce holds such a credential.

The third of Governor Herbert’s cornerstones is energy. The governor set a goal to achieve 20 percent energy efficiency by 2020 and a similar rate of renewable energy by 2025. Utah has also taken other steps to become a cleaner, more productive creator and consumer of energy through ongoing research at major universities across the state, cooperating with partners like the Idaho National Laboratory, and establishing the Green Academy to train a new energy workforce.

The last cornerstone, “the part that holds up the whole state’s building,” according to Sullivan, is self-determination. “Governor Herbert believes in government getting ‘off your backs and out of your wallets’, letting you make the choices and take the risks that you want.”

Sullivan praised the governor’s pragmatic approach to encouraging self-determination in business, pointing out how Governor Herbert sought to improve the economy by tackling business regulations. Though the governor is a supporter of regulations that increase public safety or create an even playing field, many regulations were outdated or—as the governor himself likes to call them—“nonsensical.” So two years ago the State of Utah examined the roughly two thousand business regulations and eliminated or modified 368 regulations that were hindering business in the state. Towns and cities around the state have begun to follow Governor Herbert’s example in doing regulatory reviews as well.

In instances like regulatory reform and in other important areas, Sullivan says, Governor Herbert’s efforts have strengthened the cornerstones of the state. As lawmakers and leaders around the state catch the governor’s vision for the state and follow his lead, Utah continues to prosper. “He’s set the vision of Utah as a best performing economy and a global business destination,” Sullivan says. “That’s a vision that everybody understands.”

Ryan Kunz, Matthew Simmons, and Ty Kilgore contributed to this post. Ryan, Matt and Ty work at a Utah-based digital marketing agency, where they navigate the Internet marketing world and lend their skills to people who need search engine optimization, web design, or graphic design.