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Mayors of Utah Valley: TED Talk-like event highlights Provo

By Michelle Kaufusi - Special to the Daily Herald | Feb 4, 2023

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Provo Mayor Michelle Kaufusi gives the State of the City address at the Covey Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

It is that time of the year, when we traditionally hear the state of the union, the state of the state, the state of the county, and the state of our cities. This year, we tried to freshen things up by holding our state-of-the-city address in the manner of a TED Talk. Instead of me at a podium, I walked out onto the stage of the Covey Center — no notes — and delivered a message with only a slide show and a microphone (trust me, it was terrifying preparing for this).

And in true TED Talk event style, you heard from more than just me. Presenters included BYU Communications Director Carri Jenkins; Dr. Norm Wright, President of Provo’s medical school, the Noorda College of Ostheopathic Medicine; Bill Hulterstrom, Chairman and CEO of United Way of Utah Valley; and Chad Linebaugh, President and General Manager of Sundance Resort. Each of them is dear to me, and their presentations were engaging and fascinating.

Allow me to share a few highlights from my talk and some details and updates that time didn’t allow for.

In fact, I’ll start by mentioning something we didn’t cover in my presentation but that is an exciting update: our MyHometown Initiative is a partnership between Provo City, residents, local churches, nonprofits and corporations, to strengthen particular neighborhoods. At last count, volunteers have logged 31,848 hours of service and 664 individuals have participated in classes offered through the initiative, covering everything from English as a Second Language to basic coding. Doesn’t that sound just like Provo to you? Volunteers making the world a better place, including through education!

Firstly, 2022 was incredible for Provo City. Right out of the gate, we were named the Milken Institute’s Best Performing City for the second-straight year. I was invited to be on a panel at the institute’s convention, and the audience loved when Francis Suarez, the mayor from runner-up Miami, said he was thinking of changing their city’s name to Provo as a strategy for winning next year.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Bill Hulterstrom, president of United Way of Utah County, speaks as part of the State of the City address taping at the Covey Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

But beyond that recognition, which was a credit not just to our city organization but to our entire community, 2022 was truly a decades-influencing year. In 2022, two foundation stones were laid for Provo’s future: a new city hall and a new airport terminal.

I noted that our city hall is a groundbreaker on sustainability. It’s an all-electric building that uses offsite solar energy for its electricity needs.

The success of our airport terminal has been remarkable. At the ribbon cutting, we announced the arrival of a new airline, Breeze. And we have been announcing new routes — for Allegiant or Breeze or both — ever since. Within less than six months from opening our terminal, we had welcomed over 242,000 passengers on 1752 flights.

The terminal brings over a thousand jobs to our area. Airlines are finally basing planes, pilots, flight crews, and mechanics here. All told, the terminal’s annual economic impact to our region, according to industry analysts, is $130 million.

And here’s what is crazy: airlines are already asking us to expand. They need more gates and (drum roll) want to fly internationally, including to Cabo and Cancun.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Carri Jenkins, Assistant to the President for University Communications at BYU, speaks as part of the State of the City address taping at the Covey Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

So we’re rolling up our sleeves. It was in 2019 that we pitched our vision of a terminal to the state, the county, the Mountainland Association of Governments (our regional transportation planning association), and the federal government. Each of them stepped up, and that’s how we got a terminal.

Few current projects will benefit this area’s residents and businesses as much as this one. But the airport’s impact reaches far beyond Utah Valley. Already, 30% of our passengers are from outside our “catchment area” of Utah and Juab Counties. Utahns are driving to us from Logan and St. George. And a full 20% of our passengers are from Salt Lake Valley. Truly, this is a project that lifts our state.

Additional highlights from the year include a $50 million federal grant to help with our aquifer recharge initiative. We’re taking water that otherwise would evaporate and using it to refill nature’s underground water storage units, called aquifers. Of the many projects our city has worked on during my tenure, this could be the one that has the longest and most vital impact. For decades, well levels in Provo have been dropping. We’ve been draining our aquifers. Now we are finally reversing that trend, by allowing more water to seep into the ground–at strategic locations and after careful testing — back into our aquifers. The result of this forward-looking initiative will be more water — and more water security — for Provo and its neighbors, possibly for centuries.

What else is coming?

Within the next few years, you’ll see two new parks, one between Canyon Road and Timpview Drive a little north of Timpview High School. This 7-acre park, planned with the input of residents in the neighborhood, will feature a central pavilion, a perimeter path, and pickleball courts. The other new park, a Regional Sports Park near the airport on Lakeview Parkway, is a 100-acre park that will sport 21 soccer fields and be a gamechanger for field-sports in the region, drawing teams from throughout the state and beyond for tournament play. It will also help prevent the tears of our own youngsters who want to play; this year we had to turn away 300 applicants for youth soccer play, because we didn’t have the needed field space.

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald

Provo residents attend the State of the City address taping at the Covey Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.

The theme of our event was that this community is exceptional, a point that we illustrated by highlighting Melissa Sevy. Melissa lives and works in downtown Provo and has started a company that purchases crafts from artisans — mostly women — in developing countries, then packages and sells the products to major corporations for gift giving. Corporations love that they get to share with recipients the stories of the artisans who made the crafts. They also appreciate knowing that their purchases help lift families from poverty. When Melissa gave a group of women in Uganda their first paychecks, they began celebrating with a dance and a chant, papers held high in the air. Melissa asked someone to translate. The answer was: “Today our children will drink milk.”

To catch our full presentations, please visit the YouTube page of Provo’s Channel 17 (although my presentation should be immediately available, the others may take a few days).


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