Blog Post

Insight: Salt Lake County, Utah’s Premiere Economy

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™.

I grew up in Pleasant Grove, on a dead-end street that didn’t end in a cul-de-sac. The road just ended, half-built, surrounded by fields of alfalfa for 30 years until it was filled with new houses right as I moved away. After school I took my first job in downtown Salt Lake City. It was a change of scenery for a kid who grew up with alfalfa stains on his shoes to work on the 21st floor of a downtown tower. Like many Utahns before me, I left my home town for a job in the city.

In 1955 researchers coined the term, “social cost of space” to capture how economic processes take advantage of geography.[i] Our state’s geography affects both our standing in the national economy and the concentration of our population within our own borders.

Utah accounts for a small percentage of the United States’ population – roughly 1% of the 329.5 million. It also accounts for 1% of employment, and less than 1% of gross domestic product (GDP). The state’s economic performance has been strong for many years, garnering many “Best Economy” trophies. Because Utah’s economy is relatively small in relation to the United States, this strong economic performance is much more noticeable to the local participants than it is to the overall economic performance of the nation.

Most Utahns recognize the importance of Salt Lake County to the Utah economy, but fewer people realize just how much of our economy runs through our largest county. Salt Lake County is home to about one-third of the population, and provides just under half of the jobs, and more than half of the wages and GDP for the state. It is astonishing to