A Brief Summary of Utah’s 2022 Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit
TechBuzz attended the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce's annual Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit on Thursday, January 13, 2022, to learn more about Utah’s legislative and collaborative priorities for the year to come. Topic highlights included Utah’s economic recovery from the pandemic; addressing housing shortages and affordability; investing in education and infrastructure; energy production, water usage, and environmental sustainability; and creating a diverse, accessible, and inclusive environment for workforce training, social programs, and entrepreneurship.
The event was co-hosted by the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce and Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute (University of Utah) and took place at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City. This article's photos are courtesy of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.
The Summit commenced with a rundown of economic recovery efforts by Phil Dean, Public Finance Senior Research Fellow, Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. Dean primarily spoke on Utah’s housing prices and diverse economy. Summarizing the high growth and diversity of Utah’s population, he called for increased efforts toward access and affordability of housing, stating, “If you want your kids to move out of the basement, we need to get mortgage prices under control.”
Dean focused on the resilience of Utah’s economy but spoke hesitantly about the “unprecedented” amount of federal fiscal support in response to the pandemic. Economy-wise, Dean described Utah’s economic prospects in 2022 as “hot.” His disclaimer: “There are benefits to heat, but you can also get burned.”
The next speaker, Governor Spencer Cox, echoed Dean’s concerns, referring to the amount of money coming into the state as “cotton candy—we’re inhaling it as fast as we can, but we’re due for a sugar crash.” Both speakers cautioned that overspending federal funds will burden future generations.
Similar to Dean’s comment on housing affordability, Governor Cox expressed concern over escalating mortgages and unequal distribution of jobs between rural and urban areas. “The problem is, the cost of living is so high that we’re going to have to start exporting our kids if we don’t get this right,” he said. “We have to get this right.”
Governor Cox also touched on education, taxes, and infrastructure. “Education is the great equalizer, and the Constitution guarantees a high-quality education for all,” he said, outlining educational items from his Utah 2023 action roadmap to allocate funding toward at-risk students and grant additional support to rural areas.
“As for migration and infrastructure, we need to be prepared for growth,” said Governor Cox. “One of the state’s major limiting factors is water. We must continue to implement conservation efforts and improve infrastructure to transport and store more water.”
According to the Governor’s action roadmap:
In addition to the $100 million in ARPA funds appropriated for water in the 2021 First Special Session, Gov. Cox recommends another $400 million of ARPA funds, totaling a generational half-billion-dollar investment in water conservation, restoration, preservation, and infrastructure to proactively respond to drought challenges, degrading infrastructure, and to meet the needs of future growth.
This includes the recommendation to allocate $600,000 in restricted funds to update the Great Salt Lake comprehensive resource management plan as a key resource and ecosystem.
Governor Cox closed his presentation with a call for unity. “Despite growing strains on our education, climate, and economy, we must work to be united—even as the natural outcome of growth is divergence and all its negative consequences. We must foster relationships, include a diversity of voices and networks, and support community institutions to succeed.”
Following Governor Cox, seven leaders sat down for a fireside legislative panel to discuss Utah policy:
· President Stuart Adams
· Speaker Brad Wilson
· House Majority Leader Mike Schultz
· Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner
· Senate Executive Appropriations Chair Jerry Stevenson
· Gary Hoogeveen, President & CEO, Rocky Mountain Power
· Dr. Donna Milavetz, Regional Vice President, Steward Health Care
The panel discussed budgetary decisions for water usage and fire suppression, upcoming educational initiatives, and public health policy.
Senator Milner described a “rainy day fund” for educational funding, outlining the legislature’s commitment to keep education spending consistent through up and down times. She also discussed teacher retention, stating, “We’re pretty average with teacher retention overall, but where Utah loses teachers is in the first five years.” She called for “out of the box” innovations to provide more support, flexibility, and funding increases and help meet these workforce needs.
Dr. Donna Milavetz emphasized the need for increased public healthcare efforts against the spread of COVID-19. “As business leaders and community leaders, we need to set the example to protect healthcare workers who are caring for patients.”
“Access to healthcare is paramount, and I think telehealth is really important,” said Dr. Milavetz. “We need to take incremental steps to address healthcare disparities, including the increase of testing centers in low-income areas, internet access, and the need to provide care in multiple languages.”
This article only covers a portion of summary, topics, and speakers from the Chamber’s Summit. Additional topics include initiatives to reduce homelessness, small business support, taxes, inflation, supply chain issues, workforce diversity and inclusion, and air quality, among others. TechBuzz anticipates more in-depth analysis and reporting to follow.