Utah Gov. Gary Herbert spoke about the limited role of government, the importance of empowering the private sector and ways the state and Utah County can address the gender wage gap during a speech in Provo on Friday.

The governor’s comments came during a keynote address at the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce’s “Friday Forum” at the Zions Bank building.

“This is my home, so it’s great to be back here (in Utah County),” Herbert said.

Herbert, who is in the last year of his second term and has said he will not seek reelection, reflected on the state’s economic and population growth over the last decade.

“We’ve done pretty well in Utah,” the governor said, referring specifically to the high-performing economy and growing middle class. “The American Dream’s alive and well in Utah.”

Herbert spoke about his political and philosophical support for free market principles and the importance of limiting the role of government and doing “everything we can to empower the private sector.”

“And we’ve done that by making sure we have competitive tax rates,” he said. “We want to make sure that … families and individuals and businesses keep more of their hard-earned money.”

The governor said that he is not anti-government but believes it “ought to be very efficient and effective.” The only two roles of government, as Herbert sees it, are “leveling the playing field” and “making sure that bad guys are kept off the streets.”

He also spoke about the $20 billion budget proposal his office rolled out earlier this week. The areas of focus for spending this year are transportation — which includes addressing air quality — health care and education, Herbert said.

Someone at the event asked Herbert about the gender wage gap in the state and county. According to Department of Workforce Services and U.S. Census Bureau numbers, the median salaries of women working full-time in Utah County are 62% of men’s.

“The wage gap is something that I think is real,” Herbert said, adding that the discrepancy in wages likely has to do with Utah’s family-centric culture and that the state “has been a little slower to appreciate” women working full-time. “We are probably a little more traditional, and things are changing.”

He continued, “We believe (in) equal pay for equal work. We don’t care what your gender is.”

In an interview after his address, the governor said Utah County’s emphasis on community, charity and education are some of the characteristics that have helped it thrive economically.

“We have good people,” Herbert said. “It starts with good people that have a good work ethic that are outside-the-box thinkers, creative (and) innovative.”

He used the metaphor of soil. Seeds won’t grow unless they have good soil that is watered, maintained and cultivated.

“And that’s a metaphor for what’s happening here in Utah Valley,” said Herbert.

During the “Friday Forum” event, the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce swore in six new board members: Nate Hutchinson, CEO of Flagship Homes; Chris Anderson, a shareholder at Durham, Jones and Pinegar; Rob Behunin, director of government affairs at R&R Partners; Kyle Hansen, an administrator at Utah Valley Hospital; Kevin Dowdle, a senior relationship manager at Wells Fargo; and Katie Malbica, general manager at Home2 Suites by Hilton at Thanksgiving Point.

It also elected a new chair, with the Younique Foundation’s executive director, Chris Yadon, replacing Clyde Business Group President Jeremy Hafen.

Yadon said the county’s rapid population growth will be a primary focus of the chamber in 2020.

“The key thing that we’re trying to do at the chamber is get ahead of that growth rather than letting it happen to us” without a plan, said Yadon.

Rona Rahlf, CEO and president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s priorities for the year will be addressing air quality, water conservation, transportation, agriculture, housing and education in the county.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!