If our water were as abundant as our worry over our image, this would be a halcyon summer.
You see the anxiety on the news specials. You hear it on the radio. It flows through the political rhetoric as one candidate seeks to blame another for what newspapers in other states may say about us. You even see it on the billboards: "Utah, a pretty, great state."We're terribly worried about how others see us and anxious to assure the most worried among us that we really are OK.
But some believe our gloomy self-examination is more of the problem than the solution. Our anxiety over our oddity may, in fact, become our chief oddity.
Utah's latest penchant for beating itself up amazes the executives of several companies that have located here recently.
Robert Salmon, former vice president and general manager of Fidelity Investment, came to Utah two years ago to supervise Fidelity Investment's expansion of its Western market. His career has taken him to several states in the last 15 years. But he hasn't seen anything like Utah's anxiety over itself.
Nor has Richard Thomas, division manager at McDonnell Douglas' Utah plant.
Salmon and Thomas feel so strongly about it, they agreed to participate in the Take Pride in Utah lunches with Gov. Norm Bangerter. Despite Bangerter's involvement, the men say their motives are not political. They also attended Ted Wilson's business breakfasts to discuss Utah's image.
They don't care which party does it, but someone needs to tell Utahns to stop worrying about how they appear, the men said.
Ironically, one of the reasons Fidelity Investment - the largest privately-held mutual funds investment corporation in the country - came to Utah was because of the image the state's people projected.
"We had to have the most professional-sounding, energetic and positive image makers that we could get at a reasonable price," Salmon said. "`We found human resources in Salt Lake City were second to none."
The company was looking at any state west of the Mississippi when it settled on Utah. The Salt Lake center has been so successful, Fidelity Investment expanded it to four times the originally planned size.
It was going to top off at 130 employees. Instead, it has nearly 500. "The most prosperous center in this company is in Salt Lake City," Salmon said.
McDonnell Douglas' most efficient plant is also in Salt Lake City. "We do it right the first time more often here than any other operation," Thomas said.
Absenteeism in the Salt Lake plant is .05 percent, he said. The national average is 2 percent. It's 4 percent in California.
Thomas can tick Utah's assets off on his fingers. "Work ethics and employee values go without question. Taxes are less. Spend some time in California. It's all relative," he said, pointing out that Utah's income tax is 7.5 percent to California's 11 percent.
Salmon - a former Utahn - was so pleased to be back in the state that when Fidelity Investment tried to transfer him back to Boston last month, he quit.
"The only reason I am resigning is my extreme happiness with Utah and my desire to continue to be a player in the community."
Company executives may be pleased with Utah - "We were all made stars in our own companies because of how well we did in Utah," Salmon said - but many transferees lower in their company echelons are unhappy here.
A survey of 251 newcomers done recently by Dan Jones and Associates showed that professionals are happier in Utah than other white collar workers, such as staff and sales personnel.
That may explain why the executives interviewed said the strong majority of the people in their company are happy here, said Pat Jones, a market research analyst with Dan Jones and Associates. The executives are professionals who probably spend most of their time associating with other professionals in their company.
Despite several executives' assessment of general happiness among their transferees, Jones discovered that 34 percent of newcomers surveyed did not like Utah.
The survey showed that people with post-graduate degrees are happier here than those with high school or college degrees. Those with high incomes are happier than those with moderate or low incomes. Also, those who have lived in several places - and most of Utah's high-powered executives have - are also happier here than those for whom this was their first move.
Some of the very qualities Utahns apologize for are the ones new companies value - like education. Most Utahns can recite the statistics by now: lowest expenditure per pupil and one of the largest class sizes in the nation. We attack our own schools with a ferocity that makes education lobbyists grin with gratitude.
But American Express, Fidelity Investment, Citibank (Utah), Delta and McDonnell Douglas discovered a workforce that belied the statistics.
"I disagree dramatically with those who say Utah's education system needs substantial repair," said Jim Welch, senior vice president of American Express' Travelers Cheque Operation. His center came to Utah in 1982. Salt Lake City was first choice among 63 cities, he said. The center now employs 2,100 people.
"Of the 22 American Express centers around the world, ours is the most productive. We are ranked No. 1 by a substantial margin and we are there because of the education in Utah."
McDonnell Douglas' Utah employees are better problem solvers than employees in many other plants, Thomas said.
All the officials said they have to do far less instructing and supervising in their Utah operations than the other centers.
"Utah people are able to think and adapt as opposed to looking at page five paragraph four and wondering what to do next," Welch said.
When Citibank came to Utah they found Utah employees to be "very industrious, reliable and well-educated," said Dan Jorgensen, former president and general manager of Citibank (Utah.) "On the whole, we at Citibank were extremely pleased with the quality of people we were able to find in Utah."
Fred Rollins agrees. Rollins is the director of marketing for Delta Airlines' Salt Lake center. The center now employs 4,200 people.
"Our senior managers are amazed at the caliber of the people; their credentials; their performance." he said.
The state's obsession with two negative education statistics illustrates the recent pessimism, Salmon said.
Utah has many positive educational statistics, such as the high ACT and SAT test scores, high rate of graduation from both high school and college, he pointed out.
Salmon and others challenged educators' claim that businesses won't come here because Utah's per pupil expenditure is low or the class size is high.
"I think most businesses are smart enough to look beyond that," Jorgensen said. "Most of them are smart enough to look at national test scores or the percentage that go on to college."
Most businesses bring only a handful of transferees with them to a new location, anyway, Salmon said. Contrary to popular claims in the state, it is unlikely that a company's key executives won't come to a state because of the schools.
Many of Fidelity Investment's upper echelon enroll their children in private schools in whatever state they live in, Salmon said. When Fidelity Investment brought 20 people from the East to Utah, the parents took their children out of the private schools in Boston and New York City and enrolled them in the private schools in Salt Lake City, he said.
"A company will come to Utah despite educational statistics if it can generate a good, clean, honest profit for itself here," Salmon said. "Profits drive every company's decisions."
If new businesses are so bullish on the state, why are Utahns so down on the state?
Salmon suggests Utahns' thinking is too provincial. We see our problems in isolation, so they loom larger.
"People see a problem and, my word, it's Armaggedon. `We have a failed thrift! We have some guy holding hostages in Marion!' We don't know how to put our problems in perspective. You'd think ours was the only tax increase in the history of the world. You want to see a tax increase - let me take you back East."
When Jack Schiffer and his wife came to Utah to open AT&T's credit management center seven years ago, they were startled at the negativism. People in other states the couple had lived in talked up their states, Schiffer said. But not Utah.
"Most of the negative comments I've heard on Utah came from Utahns. Sometimes self-fulfilling prophecy creates problems that don't truly exist."
Fourteen states were vying for AT&T's credit center, he said, which employs more than 700 people. It was startling to come to the state that so many assets in the eyes of AT&T's chief executives and find so much self-denegration.
"I think the biggest enemy this state has is the people who live here," Welch said. He and his wife love Utah. "We have decided to retire here. We bought a house in St. George. Our daughter is out here and she loves it. She bought a house. One of our sons is out here. He married a local girl. I can't understand why so many people in this state are so defensive about the great culture, the great work ethic.
"We will never go back East. We feel very strongly that Utah is a great place to live and equally strongly that people ought to stop being defensive. People here seem to feel they need to apologize for something. I'll be damned if I can figure out what they need to apologize for."
Some of the men believe an over-anxious media is compounding the problem. Media has gone on ad nauseum about Utah's image problem, they said.
"Right now, it's the subject," Rollins said. "Everyone's doing it. The TV stations are doing it, the radio stations are doing it, the newspapers are doing it."
"I think the people of Utah need to open the window and say, `We're damn mad and we're not going to take this negative image stuff any longer," Salmon said.