Becker: Salt lake City's economic prospects are bright
The current economic turmoil and dislocation in our national economy have certainly upset many lives and businesses. And just as "no man is an island," the same is true for the Salt Lake City economy; we are not immune from the bug that has infected the rest of the nation.
We do, however, have many important differences in our economic circumstances locally that have allowed Salt Lake City, as the regional center for the Intermountain West, to buffer the downturn in important and significant ways.
We think it's important to share with the community, our businesses and residents how we assess the current economic situation and what the future may hold. Just in the past 30 days we have seen some significant signals that Salt Lake City is in a better economic position than many cities around the nation.
One signal was the announcement by O'Reilly Auto Parts, one of the nation's largest automobile parts retailers, that it was opening a Western distribution center in Salt Lake City and hiring 400 employees. This demonstrates that our efforts to position Salt Lake City as a Western distribution hub has been paying dividends and this will continue to be a major economic generator.
Many may not know of the dynamic growth in our industrial sector that is reflected in more than 70 million square feet of space and employment of more than 40,000 people, making the Western hub the second largest employment center in Utah. O'Reilly's announcement follows other major new industrial expansions by Waxie Corporation, Young Electric, Northrup Grumman and Komatsu Machinery that have added or soon will add or help retain hundreds of good jobs in Salt Lake City.
In downtown Salt Lake City, Hamilton Partners opened the region's newest state-of-the-art, LEED-certified office building, 222 Main Street. The decision of a major developer to undertake such a project at this time is an indicator of positive change under way downtown and a vote of confidence in the future.
The 222 Main Street building will bring more than 1,000 jobs, supporting the nearby local business community that depends on office workers, and will serve as a catalyst for other new development in the downtown area. We expect major announcements soon about new tenants that will occupy substantial parts of 222 Main Street.
Our small-business community, while challenged most by the downturn, is also showing great resiliency. In downtown Salt Lake City, more than 30 new street-level businesses have opened in the past several months. And this month, our local dining icon, the Red Iguana, is expanding into its second location, in the Euclid neighborhood just a few blocks from the original restaurant, and will soon open another outlet in the City Creek Center food court.
These three examples touch on just a few of the trends that we see as positive, encouraging and symbolic of Salt Lake City's current prospects and great potential.
We are also encouraged by the new jobs and companies being created by the University of Utah and the USTAR initiative, defining Salt Lake City as a cutting-edge research and development center; our significant investment in transit infrastructure; the Salt Lake City International Airport as a major asset for travel that supports our hospitality industry; additional expansion to our hotel inventory; and the rising frame of the City Creek Center, one of the few privately funded projects of its size still under way in the country.
So while we all keep an eye on national economic trends and hope for a speedy recovery, Salt Lake City is fortunate to have a growing and forward-looking community and a high quality of life, and it continues to be a great place to live and do businesses. That is why we are optimistic about our economic future and believe that for Salt Lake City the best is yet to come.
Ralph Becker is Salt Lake City mayor; Bob Farrington is Salt Lake City economic development director.