Business leaders in Utah County joined a virtual forum Wednesday to hear the four Republicans running for governor share their vision for the state. While much of the forum naturally focused on recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, the event illustrated something business leaders and voters should remember come November: This election is about more than just the pandemic. Utah’s next governor will set the tone not just for short-term recovery, but also for our state’s long-term ability to thrive in a post-COVID world.

It’s clear that in addition to any lingering public health effects, the economic impact of the pandemic will be one of the most pressing issues for our next governor to lead out on.

Nationally, the unemployment rate jumped from 4.4% in March of this year to 14.7% just a month later. Utah’s latest official unemployment rate still sits relatively low at 3.6%, but only because it was measured in March before the full scope of the economic shutdown was realized. We’ll have a clearer picture Friday when the new state numbers are released.

This data coupled with the staggeringly high number of unemployment insurance claims on both the state and national levels prompts concerns of a severe recession.

In the Utah Valley Chamber forum, candidates for governor were asked how they would balance protecting Utahns’ health with protecting the health and vitality of our economy. This question will likely dominate much of the first year of the next governor’s first term.

But Utah’s businesses, families and communities are resilient and forward looking, and as such we shouldn’t lose sight of what Utah can still accomplish during the next governor’s first term even while we recover from this current crisis.

For example, communities across the state, but particularly in Utah County, have a tremendous opportunity to guide how we grow and invest in infrastructure so that we preserve our quality of life and our economic vitality. Utah County business, government and community leaders have already been working on forward-thinking projects like our Valley Visioning initiative, which was a partnership with Envision Utah to capture the long-term vision of Utah County residents for growth and development.

The next governor will have a unique opportunity to guide how the state balances investment in growing communities like ours with areas across Utah. We don’t yet know how (or if) the pandemic will impact growth projections, but our next governor will need to be able to work with the business community and local leaders to be adaptable and responsive to any changes that come our way.

The Utah Valley Chamber’s gubernatorial forum showcased candidates’ visions on long-term growth, and that conversation transitioned to an important question for our future governor: What are the challenges of 2021, and how can we turn those into opportunities for the years to come?

Utah Valley Chamber members and businesses across our county necessarily are focused on sustaining their businesses, keeping their employees working, and providing goods and services that our residents have come to rely on. And the Chamber will continue to advocate for business, and connect our business leaders with our elected officials throughout the duration of the pandemic and any economic downturn that may happen.

But we will transition out of this crisis, and once again focus on how to grow business and opportunity in a way that ensures long-term economic prosperity and quality of life. We encourage the winner of the governor’s race to be similarly focused.

Rona Rahlf is the President and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber. Learn more about the voice of Utah Valley business at www.thechamber.org.

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