Blog Post

1/14/14: Fast and Furious: Utah's Economy Ready to Rock in 2014

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in Utah Business

I love the start of a new year. It’s a time to begin anew and take a fresh look at life. I find it’s also agood time to take a pause, learn from the past and build a better tomorrow.

The Utah Legislature understands the value of this type of introspection and long-term thinking. Last month they took time out of their busy schedules to attend a Legislative Policy Summit hosted by the David Eccles School of Business. It was my job to brief them on Utah’s current economic positioning. Here’s what I told them:

The Great Recession thumped our state. We lost 104,000 jobs from the monthly employment peak to the monthly employment trough. Utah was the 18th hardest hit state and got hurt worse than the nation. Then … something really amazing happened.

The Utah economy popped. We leapfrogged 30 other states and the District of Columbia and emerged with the third-strongest recovery of any state.

What happened? Why did Utah’s economy show so much resilience, vitality and strength? The answer lies in a little bit of luck, some great decisions and strong economic fundamentals. Let’s take a look at each of these.

Luck

The multi-billion dollar investment by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in City Creek Center could not have come at a better time. At peak construction, the project employed 1,700 construction workers right when the economy needed it most. The massive project would have added tremendous economic value any time, but during the worst economy of most Utahns’ lifetimes, it added even more value. We got a new downtown and the project put people to work in an otherwise gut-wrenching downturn.

Great Decisions

The Utah Legislature made the decision to rebuild I-15 in Utah County at the perfect time. This massive public works project included 10 highway interchanges, 63 bridges, 385 lane miles and 2.6 million square yards of concrete pavement. At peak construction, it involved 1,600 workers, a godsend to many families in Utah. The investment not only served Utah’s long-term economic interest, it softened the blow of a terrible recession. Private investment was largely frozen on the sidelines, but Utah had a large public works project to lubricate economic activity.

Economic Fundamentals

The luck of City Creek Center and the smart decision about I-15 in Utah County played out over a foundation of strong economic fundamentals.

At the top of the list is our fiscal fitness. In Utah we set the gold standard. My checklist of fiscal responsibility includes a constitutional balanced budget requirement, AAA credit rating, line item veto, appropriation limitation and budget reserve accounts to save for a rainy day. Other states have some of these attributes; most do not have all of them. We have our governor and Legislature to thank for Utah’s top-of-the-class fiscal discipline among states.

Utah’s economic diversity also played a significant role in our rec