Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — How do you keep Utah's economy vibrant for the current generation of workers and for future generations in a state with a population expected to nearly double in the next 35 years?
The answer to that question is the identified priority of lawmakers tasked with sustaining and promoting “all of the things that are targeted at business and research, jobs and commercialization," said Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights.
That means investment in technology and education, renewed efforts at cleaning up air pollution, and realizing the forecasted gains in personal income to strengthen Utah families throughout the state.
Shiozawa, co-chairman of the Business, Economic Development and Labor Appropriations Subcommittee, said he and his panel of colleagues will spend the next several weeks creating legislation designed to spur economic expansion across Utah.
That includes funding for the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative, which seeks to bolster Utah’s research strengths and significantly increase technology commercialization to create good paying jobs for Utah's workforce.
In 2006, the Utah Legislature allocated $179 million to the USTAR Economic Development Initiative. The program allocated $15 million in ongoing annual funding to support research teams at the University of Utah and Utah State University; $4 million to support economic outreach programs around the state; and $160 million toward the construction of new research facilities at both research institutions.
Shiozawa also noted the potential job-creating economic impacts of accepting the federal dollars that would come with the implementation of Medicaid expansion, “with the side effect of taking care of a population as well.” He said it would have an immediate economic impact.
He also noted the continued need to support Utah's tourism industry and cited the negative impacts of air pollution on the local population and those who visit Utah.
“So people aren’t scared off by thinking, “We are going into a polluted state.” “(We should) demonstrate that we are making some sensible changes," he said.
Doing so would give the impression around the country that Utah is moving forward and show that “we care about our children, the environment, health care and a whole broad range of topics” that affect the economy, Shiozawa said.
The year ahead
Earlier this month, the Utah Economic Council, a panel of local economic analysts, released its 2014 Utah Economic Outlook and offered insights on where the state economy is headed in 2014.
The conclusion: The state’s economy is poised for growth if Congress avoids sending the national economy into a tailspin from bureaucratic gridlock.
Though the overall forecast is positive, economists highlighted their shared concerns about policy paralysis in Washington, D.C.
“The greatest risk to the Utah economy right now is the constant bickering within the beltway about the nation’s fiscal condition,” said Natalie Gochnour, chief economist for the Salt Lake Chamber and Utah Economic Council member.
“The gridlock creates serious uncertainty for businesses throughout the country, preventing them from investing and hiring like they want to do. As the nation’s economy struggles, it ultimately impacts Utah,” Gochnour said.
Despite the potential for trouble in Washington, D.C., the state is well-situated for economic expansion this year, said Juliette Tennert, chief economist in the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
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