SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s capital is poised to become a “Great American City” if civic leaders take advantage of the potential for development in the current climate of economic prosperity.
Those words from prominent local economist Natalie Gochnour before business and civic leaders Tuesday came as she unveiled the findings of a comprehensive report called EnterpriseSLC, listing strategic options for long-term economic success.
Gochnour, associate dean of the David Eccles School of Business and the author of the report, led the process of determining what the city has done well to create economic vitality as well as what could be done better to sustain positive momentum.
The report confirms that Salt Lake City is experiencing clear economic success, and the potential is there to do much more if leaders are willing to act.
“It’s very clear that Salt Lake City has had a strong decade,” Gochnour said in her presentation at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. “Wages have risen (and) gross taxable sales have gone up. Salt Lake City has done the things that have attracted investment.”
But she said more work remains, with a need to simplify and streamline city processes and to increase consistency and transparency.
The 90-day review of the city's economic development activities included 75 business and community leaders. Gochnour distilled their responses on economic opportunity to: "Embrace a bold and unified economic development vision of what Salt Lake City can become; create the right leadership and structure to achieve this vision; and implement strategic priorities, policies and tools to support the vision."
Among the recommendations, she suggested that the city explore a private-public partnership similar to the state of Utah’s partnership with the Economic Development Corporation of Utah and expand upon Salt Lake City’s current relationship with the organization. The private sector can offer much to help existing businesses expand and proactively market Salt Lake City to potential expansions and regional headquarters, she wrote.
Other top priorities include:
• Create a technology and innovation district — possibly in the Granary-Fleet block — to attract significant investment.
• Improve the frequency and reach of mass transit.
• Upgrade EnergySolutions Arena.
She noted the arena supports the city’s hotels, restaurants and is a source of community pride. Built in 1991, the arena will need serious investment in the coming years to remain a viable and modern venue in the Salt Lake economy, she said.
Other recommendations include devoting more resources to economic development and support for locally developed businesses. The city would benefit from a larger and finely tuned economic development effort, the report states.
The city may want to consider supporting population growth through annexations, the report said. The city’s population is small relative to the region, but annexations would create a larger and more diverse population and create a more influential capital city.
Gochour also suggested improving the tax and regulatory climate. If Salt Lake City wants to attract additional investment, it should continually monitor and improve the tax and regulatory climate for business, she said.
Salt Lake City economic development director Jill Remington-Love said the city would work to identify ordinances that are impediments to development or not accomplishing their intended purpose.
“Currently we have identified ten ordinances that we will take to the council,” she said. Similarly, city leaders would pledge to shift the culture of policymaking by “addressing existing barriers to economic development within the organization to support a culture of customer service.”
The second pledge was to prioritize commercial success by supporting business “through effective and efficient use of economic development tools.” Additionally, the city is prepared to propose a 12-month moratorium on impact fees until the current balances are reduced, which would require council approval.
The final pledge was to strengthen alliances by fostering new and reaffirming “existing partnerships with organizations that share the goal to create a Great American City.”
For business recruitment, the city will contract with a partner agency to work exclusively on Salt Lake City, she said. Another area of focus in the near term would be to address homelessness efforts, particularly in the downtown area near Pioneer Park and The Gateway.
For Remington-Love, the takeaway from the presentation was that Salt Lake City should aggressively develop a visionary economic development strategy and implement that strategy before the economy slows down.
“We have the tools available to incentive that and we plan to use them in that way,” she said.
From the report:
The following "Pillars of the Vision" summarize what is needed to make Salt Lake City a "Great American City." These nine pillars require investment and prioritization.
1. Transportation crossroads
2. City of learning
3. Center for arts, culture and entertainment
4. Growing center for technology
5. National leaders in sustainability
6. Vibrant neighborhood centers
7. Home grown and local
8. Entrepreneurial and innovative
9. Small business enterprises