Utah is growing, and Utah County is driving that growth, according to Natalie Gochnour, director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
The state of Utah added over 260,000 people to its population in the last five years. That’s roughly the size of Weber County. Much of the growth came from “in migration,” people moving from out of state, typically for jobs. Recent numbers shared at Friday’s Utah Economic Summit revealed the state’s unemployment rate is at 2.9%, which is lower than the current U.S. rate of 3.6%.
Much of the growth has to do with the thriving tech industry. In fact, Gochnour suggested, Utah could become the cradle for the fourth Industrial Revolution, centering around the fusion of technologies that create artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles and more. After all, she said, Utah’s tech industry is growing at twice the rate of the U.S. tech industry.
However, that kind of growth doesn’t come without its own problems. The biggest problem, and the topic of a breakout session at the summit, was a lack of affordable housing.
Put simply, there isn’t enough housing for all the people who live in Utah. It doesn’t necessarily mean people are homeless, said Abby Osborne, vice president of public policy and government relations for the Salt Lake Chamber. But there are a lot of employees who can’t find housing in Utah.
“There’s not enough supply out there,” Osborne said.
One challenge is the kind of people moving to Utah. Many of those migrating to Utah are coming for jobs in STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Often, they come from places like California, where property prices are high enough to be legend — so in a place like Utah, keeping their California-tech salary, dropping $500,000 on a half-acre seems like a great deal, members of the panel on affordable housing said.
Clark Ivory, CEO of Ivory Homes, said it seems like the problem would fix itself — but another problem facing the housing industry in Utah is a lack of skilled workers. Younger generations, Ivory said, are showing less and less interest in trades.
“We’re doing everything we can right now to get more people interested in the trades,” he said.
If the housing market continues as is, Clark surmised the average home price in 15 years could hover around $830,000. One solution is to have more affordable, high-density housing — but that’s a topic that has been met with heated opposition, as seen just this week with the Ivory development that will replace the Dixon Mink Farm.
Osborne referred to the opposition as “Nimbyism,” meaning the sense of, “not in my backyard.” The problem, she explained, is that while many community and political leaders are on board and recognize the need for high-density housing in some areas, the general public does not.
“When we reject these housing developments ... we’re pushing out our kids and our grandkids being able to afford to live here,” something people don’t seem to understand, she said. “We’ve gotta get the general public really aware that ... it’s going to be bad in the future if we just continue to say no.”
Ivory cited the inland port development, another topic of discussion at the summit, as an example of the need for “workforce housing.” What’s the point of developing it, he asked, if there won’t be housing nearby to support it?
“We’ve got to couple economic development and housing,” Ivory said. “If we can put (housing) closer to where the jobs are going to then we have fewer strains on the infrastructure.”
The panel discussing the inland port mostly focused on the opportunities it will bring to the state.
“The inland port will give us very unique multimodal capabilities,” Ben Hart, member of the Inland Port Board, said. “This opportunity … will be one that helps future generations of Utahns.”
Hart also works as the deputy director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. He believes the inland port will bring more opportunities for Utahns, particularly those in rural areas, to participate in exporting their goods.
“The shipment of goods and services is really what … brings long-term success for communities,” Hart said.
Gov. Gary Herbert gave the keynote speech during the lunch hour, also focusing his words on the power and importance of business and a free market.
“What matters in America, what matters in Utah, is what you can build with your own two hands, with your own ingenuity,” Herbert said.