Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah retains its status as one of the nation’s top-ranked states for business and economic growth, according to a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report on Enterprising States.
Utah was the top overall performer, finishing in the top six in each of five policy categories and third in overall economic performance. Utah was the only state to land in the top 10 on all lists.
“Utah is united behind the goal that 66 percent of our working population will have a college degree or postsecondary certificate by the year 2020," said Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. "In addition, we are focusing on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and math) to better align the skills of Utahns with the growing needs of the job market."
His comments came at the Small Business Summit this week in Washington, D.C., where the report was released. The report takes an in-depth look at the free enterprise policies being implemented to promote economic growth at the state level.
The study measured state performance overall and across five policy areas deemed important for job growth and economic prosperity: talent pipeline, exports and international trade, technology and entrepreneurship, business climate, and infrastructure.
This year’s study related those policies and practices to the need for collaboration between education, workforce development, and economic development to combat the nation’s growing skills gap, the report stated.
Utah received a top five ranking in five of the six major categories — exports and international trade, technology and entrepreneurship, business climate, talent pipeline and infrastructure.
Utah was ranked among the top ten in 22 of 33 subcategories and in the top 25 in all but two of the study’s 33 subcategories. The results of the study are a good sign for Utah, according to Mark Shill, vice president of research for Praxis Strategy Group, which prepared the report.
“Two things really stick about Utah, the growth of the technology sector and knowledge-based industries, and the second thing is the leadership of the governor and other state leaders to promote education as a key goal,” Shill said. “Getting the message out loud and clear that educating the state’s citizens is the goal.”
He said that preparing the state’s workforce to have the background necessary to get jobs in the current and future tech-based economy will be a key element to long-term economic success for the state.
Herbert said that the rankings are already paying dividends in helping the state achieve some of its economic development goals.
“(The high rankings) make it easier for us to recruit people to come to Utah,” Herbert said. Despite the accolades, he acknowledged that there is still room for improvement.
“We have a renewed emphasis on improving the skills of our workforce to align with the demands of the marketplace,” he said. “There are some gaps in that area.”
Herbert said STEM education must continue to be a priority in the future if the state is going to remain competitive economically in the years ahead.
“We have too many jobs going wanting because we don’t have the labor skills to fill those jobs,” he said. The state has targeted $30 million toward science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in an effort to close the knowledge and skills gap, he added.
Start STEM early
Herbert said the process of identifying young people with aptitude for STEM-related careers should begin in the elementary school years.
“I call that “alignment,”” he said. “It’s an area that we are going to have renewed emphasis going forward. It’s an area where we are deficient and can improve.”
The governor said the state would continue to make its best efforts to keep up with the increasingly competitive economic development marketplace.
“We’ve got to work really hard to maintain our position as a leader in the country,” Herbert said. “We are going to double our efforts. We’ve got to continue to work hard to provide jobs for the (future) generation.”
For Utah-specific study information, visit www.uschamberfoundation.org/enterprisingstates/#map/all/UT/
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