Blog Post

Insight: Economic Development Needs to Address Wealth Generation

By: Max Backlund

Note: The opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not reflect an institutional position of the Gardner Institute. We hope the opinions shared contribute to the marketplace of ideas and help people as they formulate their own INFORMED DECISIONS™.

In a previous blog post I outlined some of the challenges Utah faces if we want to use economic development to address issues like upward mobility and the American Dream. The decline of the American Dream is well documented, and based in two trends: lower growth rates for Gross Domestic Product and greater inequality in the distribution of growth.[i]

Although wealth generation has been connected to economic development for more than 30 years, it has yet to make any observable impact on economic development planning in Utah. In 1988 the National League of Cities authored a book that includes the following definition of economic development:

“Local economic development refers to changes that increase a local economy’s capacity to create wealth for local residents using human, financial and physical resources.”[ii]

This concept is included in the 2019 GOED strategic plan in a section about seeking better measures of success:

“This reflects the transition from a recession-driven emphasis on job creation (the focus in the early 2010s) to a renewed focus on wealth generation and asset building among communities (reflecting 10 years of economic growth in most states).”[iii]

The 2019 GOED plan also identifies upward mobility as part of a much broader mission statement:

“Building on its success, Utah will elevate the lives of current and future generations through an exceptional quality of