Salt Lake County is the engine of Utah’s economy, accounting for nearly one half of state GDP. Like the rest of the state and country, that engine has sustained quite a blow during this pandemic, with the unemployment rate at nearly 11%.
Despite efforts by the federal government to inject liquidity into the economy, there is still much more we must do to recover from the devastation we have seen in our state – and Salt Lake County needs to lead the way.
Here are some specific ways in which Salt Lake County can lead Utah back to prosperity:
• Launch a “Buy Local, Stay Local” campaign.
Through its economic development funds, there should be an extensive campaign to support local businesses. The data shows that purchases made from a locally owned business not only keeps four times more money in the state economy, it creates much needed jobs and ensures that sales and property tax dollars are reinvested that help pave roads and support schools and first responders. This is why Riverton launched an economic recovery initiative that focuses on buying local.
With the hospitality industry being among the hardest hit, this sector needs help now. Monies can be repurposed to support “staycations” in our resort towns such as Alta and Brighton and other hotel properties. Our residents could benefit from special offerings that would fill the gaps in reservations these businesses are suffering from and provide a nice benefit to our residents. A win-win.
• Invest in infrastructure.
The state recently announced that it has the bonding capacity to support billions in infrastructure projects. With all of our rapid growth, massive infrastructure investment is needed in Salt Lake County to maintain quality of life. But we need leadership to work with the state and cities to make it happen. Projects such as the completion of Bangerter Highway and Mountain View Corridor, improving east/west connectivity throughout Salt Lake County, bettering the traffic situation in our canyons, the expansion of our transit systems and broadband infrastructure should all be prioritized. This will spur jobs, decrease traffic, and improve air quality.
• Sustained tax and regulatory reform.
Many cities have suspended some regulations on businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. Such suspension has caused many to realize that those regulations and taxes were not needed in the first place. Governments should keep those burdens suspended beyond the crisis to stimulate increased growth on our road to recovery, and Salt Lake County should use its influence with the state and cities to ensure regulations and licensing requirements are kept at an absolute minimum to drive growth.
• Improve mental health.
The events of the past few months have taken a significant toll on many, to say the least. Utah has long struggled with mental health and it is well past time to tackle this pernicious issue. Loosening of regulations that restrict the supply of mental health professionals and investment in education to train more mental health advocates are two policy measures we can begin to look at right away.
• Properly Appropriate the CARES Act Funding.
Utah has received some $1.25 Billion in funding for the CARES Act, with about $200 million going to Salt Lake County. Ensuring these funds go immediately to its city partners to provide sustainability of essential city services and providing business assistance is absolutely critical. The County should therefore immediately launch additional funding programs for small businesses that have been the hardest hit and yet had the most difficulty in securing Federal programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program or other emergency loans.
We have much to do ahead of us, but Salt Lake County is up to the challenge. With the right focus, priorities, and leadership we will quickly rebound and continue our course toward increased prosperity and progress.
Trent Staggs is the mayor of Riverton and a candidate for Salt Lake County Mayor.