Theresa A. Foxley: Focus on Utah’s economy in a time of transition

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune New development is constructed West of the Gateway. A poll on the Utah economy is tied to new report released on Tuesday.

Think back to the year 1920. Your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents were living through a time of massive technological change. Railroads crossed the land, speeding the delivery of goods. Automobiles were displacing horse-powered transportation. The airplane was gaining capabilities to further disrupt old ways of work. And American households gathered around the radio for news and entertainment.

We are now one-fifth into the 21st Century and we are in just as revolutionary a time. We’ve seen computers give us radically new ways to collect and understand data. Medical technology is mitigating some of humankind’s biggest woes. Autonomous vehicles are poised to alter our means of transportation on the ground and air. The Fourth Industrial Revolution will extend the impact of digitization in ways we are just beginning to understand.

Since 1987, EDCUtah has worked with state and local government and private industry to attract and grow competitive, high-value companies and spur the expansion of local Utah businesses. EDCUtah is a private nonprofit organization with competencies in primary and secondary economic research, business development, project management and community development.

Our role in growing Utah’s economy gives us a unique perspective on trends that will affect the state in the decade to come. For one thing, we regularly communicate with site selectors, the consultants who identify communities on behalf of corporations looking to expand. We work directly with corporate executives. Lastly, we partner daily with Utah cities to help them improve their growth prospects.

With Gov. Gary Herbert’s successful tenure coming to an end, the state faces an important leadership transition in the midst of these times of transformational technology. This statewide election closely follows a mayoral transition in our Capital City. It is not our role to support one candidate over another in these political contests. But it is our role to voice our unique perspective on topics critical to the continued growth of our state’s economy, in the near and long term.

In the coming months, we plan to report on findings from the following initiatives. This research is intended to aid our efforts, but also to inform new and future elected leaders on steps they can take to establish Utah as the economic headquarters of the Intermountain West for key growth sectors of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

One, we are in the midst of conducting in-depth interviews with more than 100 business executives, most in Utah’s focus sectors. These “Know the Customer” or KTC interviews are providing a baseline of information on what our state’s strengths and drawbacks are from an economic standpoint. We plan to publish a preliminary report (based on 60 interviews) later in the month. We hope the themes uncovered will help to inform the next administration on challenges and opportunities faced by our existing business community.

Two, as part of our business development efforts, we are hosting a small group of top site selection consultants in January and will conduct a focus group. The topics covered will range from state incentives, workforce issues, rural growth opportunities, and more. We plan to publish a summary of these discussions in February.

Three, our research team is developing a survey on the topic of diversity in the workforce. Many companies considering an expansion in Utah as are focused on this issue, and our research seeks to identify barriers and opportunities for a more inclusive workplace. We plan to publish findings from this study in March.

Four, our research team is also conducting a national survey of hundreds of site selection consultants. How is Utah perceived by companies across the country? What policies or programs that other states have should Utah consider implementing? What existing policies or programs should Utah continue or augment? We plan to publish this report in April.

Our state leaders will need to anticipate and grapple with disruptive trends in the economy. With data, planning, and continued collaboration, it is our hope that Utah can lead the nation in navigating this complex environment for the greater benefit of its residents.

Follow us on Twitter — @edcutahorg — or periodically check www.edcutah.org for the reports described above.

Theresa Foxley

Theresa A. Foxley is president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.