Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL) is one of the world's largest integrated international container transportation, logistics and terminal companies. The firm has moved its U.S. headquarters from California to Utah. It is quite remarkable that one of the world's largest shippers would have its U.S. headquarters in Utah rather than a major U.S. port city. But what is even more interesting is the reason the company came to Utah.
During the recent Utah Trade Mission to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China, Erxin Yao, OOCL's director of corporate planning and administration, told the Utah trade delegation during a tour of the firm’s Hong Kong facilities that he is a real fan of Utah. "I like Utah because of the people,” he said. “They are friendly, industrious, honest and well-educated."
Our people are Utah's secret sauce for success, and quality education for our young people is the key to Utah's future success.
The good news is that Utahns greatly value education. In numerous polls, including the recent Envision Utah survey, education emerges as Utah’s top issue. Why? Most Utahns who took the survey (almost 53,000 of us), said an educated workforce will drive a strong economy. They believe well-educated Utahns will be better citizens and create better, safer communities. They also said good education creates opportunities to succeed.
Utah is a top 10 state by many measures of success. But we are not top 10 in education — perhaps the most important measure of all. Education outcomes are improving, but we have much progress to make. We must achieve top 10 status.
Utahns say education is important for four primary reasons: (1) Workforce excellence drives a strong economy; (2) Educated citizens more fully participate in society (volunteering, casting educated votes, etc.); (3) Educated people enjoy better health and make healthier decisions, reducing health care costs; and (4) Education ensures opportunities for all Utahns to achieve the American dream.
The Envision Utah survey also showed Utahns are willing to pay more to improve education — as long as the money is well spent. They support a scenario in which the state makes significant strategic investments to make Utah a top 10 education state.
Some 71 percent of Utahns were at least "somewhat willing" to raise education taxes. But they want to be sure the money is used effectively, implementing well-proven strategies.
We know what strategies are effective and will make Utah a top education state. Strong consensus exists on these strategies among experts and among Utah business leaders, educators and parents. Some of these proven strategies include:
1) Increased investment in and access to high-quality early childhood education — especially for at-risk students.
2) Improved teacher compensation, training and professional development.
3) Targeted interventions for failing students, coupled with rigorous standards and ongoing assessments.
4) Affordable tuition for higher education, ensuring opportunities for post-high school training.
To become a top 10 state, these strategies must be adequately and consistently funded and vigorously and consistently implemented over a number of years.
Citizens support applying most of the annual state budget revenue increases to education. The most-supported survey scenario also anticipates small tax increases to ensure sufficient education funding, similar to the Legislature’s action levying a small property tax increase to equalize capital project funding.
Implementing these strategies will make a tremendous difference. More high school diplomas and college degrees mean more high-paying jobs, a stronger economy, higher salaries, less poverty, lower social service costs, lower crime and incarceration rates, greater tax revenue and more civically engaged residents who vote and volunteer in their communities.
In October, Envision Utah will release a vision for Utah incorporating Utahns’ desires for the future. In the meantime, we all should support Gov. Gary Herbert's call for more education funding. We must encourage the Legislature to properly fund education, including carefully targeted tax increases. Utahns will absorb a tax increase in the short-term to gain major long-term benefits. Wisely spent education money will more than pay for itself in stronger economic growth.
Future success depends on our children and grandchildren being competitive with the best and brightest around the globe. An educated workforce will result in more businesses like OOCL moving to Utah, more businesses expanding in Utah, and more business startups in Utah. The key to our future, as Erxin Yao of OOCL said, is indeed a hardworking, honest, well-educated workforce.
A. Scott Anderson is CEO and president of Zions Bank.