Recent months have seen a lot of good news about Utah’s economic outlook. The state’s job growth rates that reflect the highest year-over-year increases in the country. Unemployment rates along the Wasatch Front continue to drop and now sit well below the national average. And big brands moving their operations to the region.
Facebook’s massive data center in Eagle Mountain will create hundreds, if not thousands, of construction jobs and hundreds more to run the facilities once operational. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) recently announced that Canopy, a tax resolution software firm, and GoHealth, which provides affordable consumer health care coverage, will have an office in the area and collectively will add more than 1,000 new jobs.
This is all great news for job creation. Along with this growth comes the challenges that accompany a rapidly thriving local economy, namely a constricting housing market and escalating housing costs.
The Wasatch Front soon will join a select group of prospering regions that includes Northern California, Southern California and Seattle that have experienced explosive job growth and have had to navigate their respective housing crunches. In each of these regions, development of master-planned communities and new housing builds brought more jobs and homes for workers.
However, with expansive new housing construction comes the need to plan and implement a transportation, energy and education infrastructure to support the growth. News around the controversial 930-acre Olympia development near Herriman has shone a bright light on – among other things – this issue.
There may be “other Olympia developments” in our future as we adjust to the reality that population projections from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah call for an increase of nearly 950,000 people along the Wasatch Front over the next five decades.
While housing and transportation issues must be addressed, the real key for sustained growth in the region is further strengthening our education infrastructure. In a recent article, Zions Bank CEO and President A. Scott Anderson wrote about the biggest challenges and opportunities facing Utah and the continued momentum of the state’s economy. He cited results from an informal joint study that his company did with UtahPolicy.com involving 40 Utahn leaders in business, government and nonprofit organizations where they were asked what will “keep Utah ahead and take our state to the next level?”
Anderson stated that – by far – the top priority is education and “preparing Utah’s young people for the jobs of the future with adequate education funding, and by matching skills development to the jobs available.”
Theresa Foxley, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, was quoted in the piece, reinforcing the point that the “long game” of economic development is education, with a lot of infrastructure built in.
And, in a recent Utah Business article, State Sen. Ann Millner bluntly stated that, “Utah cannot grow its technology cluster without a significant focus on developing talent.” Because the technology sector drives our state’s economy, the article draws the conclusion that the state must “turn out more talent or face a drawback in economic prosperity.”
These articles are just a few of many that highlight the importance of proper education and training for our state’s future workforce to achieve the following outcomes: grow specific industry sectors (e.g. technology, manufacturing); lure even more out-of-state businesses to locate their offices or operations here; or fuel entrepreneurship locally.
For starters, to be successful, Utah will need to take a close look at teacher compensation and how it stacks up against other types of jobs to ensure that charter schools and school districts keep their top instructors.
The state is beginning to face some of the same shortages in skilled labor that have challenged other states, such as California. Some of these shortages will be addressed with new workers moving into the area. But the vast majority of solving this very real and fast-emerging market dynamic will be the state committing the necessary resources to focus on educating and training the workers of today and tomorrow.
About the Author
Susan Hornbuckle is the Utah territory vice president for Kelly Services, a global leader in providing workforce solutions. She oversees the staffing and business solutions operations for Kelly throughout the state, with a focus on staffing for accounting and finance, administrative, aerospace and defense, education, engineering, information technology, light industrial and manufacturing, and more. Connect with Susan at: www.linkedin.com/in/susan-hornbuckle.