Tribune editorial: It’s hard to attract top research talent at the Point if there isn’t the intellectual infrastructure to fill their laboratories

Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune New houses have sprung up just north of I-15 in Lehi near the Outlets at Traverse Mountain. Utah County is growing at a rapid rate, especially Lehi.

They call it the Point of the Mountain Development Commission, but they might just as well have called it the point of the state.

The commission was created as part of the decision to move the state prison, but its scope went well beyond the 700-acre prison site.

After months of study, the commission has put out five possible scenarios for the public to consider. The basic conclusion is that the area from Sandy to Saratoga Springs is in for a population explosion over the next 30 years, and it will require huge infrastructure investment, a more educated workforce and 30 percent electric vehicles to keep it from becoming a gridlocked, sprawling, polluted mess.

Sorta like the rest of the Wasatch Front.

The report mentions what local governments can do with zoning laws to handle higher population densities, but the bulk of work lies in the hands of state leaders, who must address these challenges for everyone, not just those in Point of the Mountain area.

The traffic bottleneck at the Point is already unworkable, and the population will double in the next three decades. The report’s most hopeful scenarios include more highways and more trains through the narrow gap between Utah and Salt Lake counties.

The solutions will cost billions — so much that it will require a better educated workforce that can command higher wages and pay more taxes.

It turns out those who thought prison-site development could be a catalyst had it backward. We have to up our game in educated workers as a catalyst to developing the site in the most fruitful way — with some kind of university-based research center as its core. It’s hard to attract top research talent if there isn’t the intellectual infrastructure to fill their laboratories.

The two school districts that meet at the Point — Alpine and Jordan — are among the lowest per-pupil spenders in the lowest-spending state in the Union. You don’t have to prove a direct link between school funding and quality to know that spending the least in the nation isn’t going to generate legions of grad students.

It’s not “If you build it, they will come.” It’s “If you educate them, they will build it.”

On that we have some work to do.