December 6, 2013

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Resolutions for a Better Utah

Execs Provide their Top Priorities for Improving the Beehive State

By Utah business leaders

December 6, 2013

As the New Year approaches, it’s a time that many individuals and organizations reflect on what they are doing right and what they could be doing better. In many ways, the state of Utah is in a good place. From our bustling business environment to our entrepreneurial spirit to our giving culture, Utah’s businesses and citizenry have much to be proud of. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement. We asked business executives from around the state, spanning various industries, to provide their insights into what Utah needs today to be stronger tomorrow. In the following pages, you’ll see their responses, ranging from enhancing Utah’s image to improving transportation. Though you might not agree with all ideas presented, we hope that these comments will spur further thought into what we can do to improve the state we call home. 

Michael R. Weinholtz

CEO, CHG Healthcare Services, Inc.

Quality early-childhood education should be a priority for improving the long-term prospects of growing the economy and the business community. The research is clear: Quality early-childhood programs are an essential part of education and workforce preparation. We rarely have the luxury of making business-investment decisions with as much evidence as we have to support the economic value of investing in early care and education. Children who aren’t ready for kindergarten are much less likely to read well by third grade—a key benchmark. Students who aren’t reading well by third grade are four times more likely to drop out of school. Early-childhood programs are smart investments with a significant ROI for our state. They expand the economic potential of our state by cutting down on a range of social costs, reducing the achievement gap, and improving the preparation of the Utah workforce for higher employment and productivity. And helping children get a good start in life is consistent with core Utah values such as self-reliance, personal responsibility and equal opportunity.

To improve in this area, the business community needs to help Utah legislators understand the value of making these kinds of investments. With the real pressures of dealing with current budgets, it’s sometimes difficult to focus on longer-term investments for our state’s future. But this one should be a no-brainer. Virtually every other developed country is beating the U.S. when it comes to access to high-quality preschool. As it so often does, Utah should lead the way in showing the rest of the country what’s best for economic development and our people.

Mike Lawson

President and CEO, Commerce Real Estate Solutions

My initial response was going to be relative to education…but I think rather than a specific piece of legislation, initiative, funding proposal, etc., maybe the leaders (both public and private) of the state of Utah could focus on collaboration. Utah is a striking model of success as it relates to effective public-private sector initiatives. Our state has, by any measure, one of the most successful economic recruitment initiatives in the country. Likewise, this state has collaborated—state government, local government and private sector leadership has set the standard for policy and planning via initiatives such as USTAR, Envision Utah, Wasatch Front Regional Council, and the recent efforts of GOED and EDCU’s collaboration. Those are several stellar examples and they serve as an exemplary model of what can be achieved when we work together to achieve consensus on a goal and set a course for execution. That’s the model, but it’s not always the practice. 

Regardless of initiative, make sure that if it’s a public-sector issue, the private sector is engaged in a meaningful and visible way. Let’s make sure that every impacted audience is engaged and that each audience is heard. There’s relatively few times that every participant or audience will get 100 percent of their specific goal addressed, but a collaborative and involved/engaged approach will provide more funding for our children, our roads, our environment, our business community, etc. No one has to be left out unless we selfishly focus solely on winning and turf.

Greg A. Winegardner

Utah Regional President, Wells Fargo

The state of Utah is doing so many things right when it comes to economic development and growing the economy. The collaboration and partnership between government and the private sector is the envy of the country. Utah has positioned itself as a “business friendly” state and “open for business.”

Short term, our challenge is overcoming the image of Utah that exists out there with people who have never lived or been to Utah. Much work is being done in this area. Once you get people here, they love it and find that Utah is a great place to live and do business.

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