Blog Post

Crossroads of the West stands strong

By: Natalie Gochnour

Originally published in the Deseret News

About 1,400 small-business owners, entrepreneurs, business executives and community leaders will gather at the Grand America Hotel on Friday for the 10th annual Governor’s Economic Summit. It will be a celebration of sorts, as the Utah economy continues to impress. The Beehive State created nearly 45,000 jobs over the past year and is in its sixth year of solid economic growth. The Crossroads of the West stands strong.

A hallmark of the governor’s economic summit is a mindset toward the future. As a speaker at the summit I will present several trends for attendees to contemplate as we plan for a prosperous future. Three of these trends are worthy of a broader discussion.

Rise of Utah County

Utah’s second-largest county is teeming with life. Job growth in Utah County currently outpaces the national average by a magnitude of three. Unlike Salt Lake County, where an estimated 30,000 acres of buildable land supply still exist, Utah County has about 200,000 acres available for Utah’s growing population. A sizable share of this land is in northern Utah County, where the real estate market is white-hot. Here, the nexus of Utah’s two largest economies is creating a boil of economic activity.

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute estimates that about 40 percent of Utah’s employment growth since 2010 has come from the 25-mile corridor stretching from Midvale to Pleasant Grove. I call this area the “SO-NO Corridor” because it includes Southern Salt Lake County and Northern Utah County. The relocation of the Utah State Prison will only fuel the fire. We face an economic imperative to develop this area in a way that creates maximum opportunity for our state. We get one chance to do this right.

Declining fertility

Utah’s fertility rate stands at a historic low. While still the highest in the nation, Utah’s total fertility rate has fallen from 4.30 in 1960 to 2.33 today. Many factors have likely contributed to this drop, including female participation in the labor force, educational attainment of women, and, recently, the lingering effects of the Great Recession. The change in the missionary age for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (particularly for women) may also be a factor.

The question to grapple with is this: “Will the fertility rate remain this low and what does it portend for Utah’s future?” Utah’s high fertility rate has given our state economic advantages such as a growing, healthy, tech-savvy and inexpensive labor force. At the same time, an abundance of children has challenged the state to make adequate investment in education. Utah will do well to understand this demographic phenomenon and evaluate how it may affect our future.