When Scott Schaefer paints a picture of Utah's economy over the coming decade, it has some cheery features: well-educated people working for businesses that chose to be here because of the state's many fine attributes, both natural and manmade, in a region that's bustling.
Utah's economy will grow faster than the U.S. economy, said Schaefer, associate dean and professor of finance at the University of Utah business school. "The question is how fast the U.S. economy will grow."
Trying to shake off one of the toughest recessions of a century, no one's predicting quick replacement of all the jobs lost to the economic tsunami. And that's cause for major concern. But there's a healthy measure of optimism and predictions that our economic footing is changing and that Utah can still woo businesses here.
It's a great place for entrepreneurs, says Ned Hill, professor of finance at Brigham Young University. One potential danger is that lawmakers, trying to prevent another collapse of the financial system, will overregulate and choke that entrepreneurial spirt.
We're becoming a "service" economy, both Schaefer and Hill say. So many countries can do the labor part of manufacturing more cheaply than Americans can or will, so we will provide the management skills, the bright ideas, the sales and customer service. But Hill adds a caution: If you don't get an education, the service you provide may be flipping burgers.
"Our advantage is in education," agrees Schaefer, "And those skills are in fairly high demand, so our economy will be able to grow."
For growth areas, Hill points to health care and high-tech industries.
Utah has great people and great ideas, says Christian Mogren, a marketing senior at the U., who will go from studying the economy to contributing to it with a new career in the next few months. Like the others, he expects growing globalization but added that consumers increasingly want transparency and a say in how things are done, including labor practices. It's one thing to save money with cheap labor and another to be viewed by the buying public as exploitive, which can bring political and economic backlash.
— Lois Collins