This year marks the 30th anniversary of an organization that few Utahns know much about but which has benefited the state.
Pioneer diarist Willard Richards recorded trapper Jim Bridger’s statement that he’d give $1,000 for a bushel of corn raised in the Salt Lake basin. He warned Brigham Young that it would be “imprudent” to bring a large body of settlers to this rugged country. Bridger was an acknowledged expert on the region.
From then until now, in some ways Utah has defied expectations. In a region that once attracted few settlers, the state now draws tourists and commercial interests from around the globe, attracting diverse businesses, artists, innovators and entrepreneurs.
It was 30 years ago when several major Utah corporations began the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, or EDCUtah, aimed at attracting a diverse economy to the state.
For the last three decades the founders of EDCUtah and numerous other public and private actors have worked to attract businesses to Utah and have put in place the foundation for the kind of local economic success and growth that the state now enjoys.
Whether it is familiar names like Adobe or Amazon, or less familiar names like Earnest, Podium or Alliance Data Systems, EDCUtah has had a role in helping recruit these and other businesses to local counties where their unique business models, operations and people can thrive.
Utah has a remarkably broad-based economy including — contrary to Bridger’s pessimistic prediction — a robust agricultural sector. More recently, Utah has recruited companies that are attracted to the economics of employing skilled workers in industries as diverse as aerospace, information technology, life sciences, financial services, manufacturing and outdoor recreation.
The methods of recruiting businesses, however, are not above critique. Utah had its own brush with controversy when the state made an aggressive effort to persuade Facebook to bring a gigantic data center to the state last year. The clandestine process — initially coded as “Project Discus” — and the large incentive package contributed to conflicts between stakeholders that played out in a public manner.
There is a natural tension between public transparency and proprietary business information, and not everyone always agrees with the level of local and state tax incentives that should be offered to lure a particular business. EDCUtah, however, has been cautious to stay in its lane and does not get involved with tax incentives, striving to remain focused on its specific role in facilitating the recruitment process. EDCUtah acknowledges the inherent tension in keeping business information private and keeping public stakeholders involved, and it told the joint Deseret News and KSL editorial boards this week that it is committed to transparency in its process and outcomes.
Regardless of the politics and specific policies, its role as facilitator serves a noble function that allows the state to make a strong and honest pitch that provides an assessment of Utah’s strengths while creating a smooth system for those looking to expand their enterprises to the Beehive State.
With the emerging plans for development around the Point of the Mountain, as well as the prospects for growth in the Northwest Quadrant and a possible inland port, Utah holds the promise of continued growth. The state benefits from the success of EDCUtah and will need its continued work, planning and innovation for economic opportunities in the years ahead.