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Guest Opinion: Time to build Utah’s future

By Luke Peterson - | Mar 3, 2021

The San Francisco Bay, home to Silicon Valley and its star-studded companies — Apple, Google, Oracle and Facebook — has long held the top spot among the Milken Institute’s ranking of top-performing local economies.

No more.

As of last week, San Francisco has dropped all the way down to No. 24. The new top dog for economic performance is Provo-Orem.

Throughout history and prehistory, major natural events have led to revolutionary economic shifts — the domestication of the horse, invention of irrigation and cities, and the first Industrial Revolution.

America and the world are still going through a catastrophic ordeal in COVID-19, but many policymakers and business leaders are trying to look ahead, to see what the post-pandemic world will look like.

Two weeks ago, many of these same leaders might have struggled to find Provo on a map. Today, they know exactly where it is and are asking the question, “Is Utah the future of the economy?”

Whether Provo-Orem’s rise to the top (followed close behind by Salt Lake and Ogden) is a momentary blip, or an economic revolution is ultimately up to us.

Utah’s economy is at the top because of the tremendous work ethic of Utahns, the energy of our entrepreneurs, and the vision of our policy leaders.

Utah can be proud of its legislative leaders who have shown tremendous fiscal restraint over the years. After the 2008 recession, that restraint meant that we had the capacity and the funds to invest in vital infrastructure improvements which paved the way to our current top economic spot.

Now, we have the chance to act prudently for our future again.

House Bill 433, sponsored by Representative Schultz, proposes a major investment in Utah’s infrastructure — road improvements to accommodate current and future growth, investments in active transportation and our state parks to expand bike lanes and trails and improve our quality of life, and improvements to FrontRunner and mass transit to reduce congestion and improve air quality.

Infrastructure investment is the engine for a prosperous Utah in every sense of the word — jobs, air quality, open space and quality of life for us and our children.

The proposed legislation has an impressive $2.3 billion price tag. That’s the sort of number that would scare anyone. Yet, the simple truth is that we will need to pay for infrastructure one way or another.

We can act now with smart planning and strategic vision while interest rates are at historic lows and we can get the most for our dollar, or we can be acted upon, waiting for congestion, traffic, smog and overcrowding to finally force us to pay desperation prices to fix our problems.

There’s a reason why our flag has a beehive on it. As a people, Utahns understand the need to build for the future, to gather pollen and make honey while you can. Moreover, the economic payoffs are real.

The Global Infrastructure Hub recently reviewed 3,000 studies of the economic impact of infrastructure investment. They found that when a fiscally conservative government invests in infrastructure during an economic downturn (buys low) they gain a 160% return. A $2.3 billion investment would result, then, in a $3.7 billion gain in new jobs, businesses and economic activity in the years to come.

San Francisco is a great place to grab a bowl of chowder, but should it be the future of America’s economy? Or does Utah have a better example to offer America?

Ultimately, the answer is up to us.

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