There was a time when the prospect of landing a big headquarters facility for a company like Amazon would have Utah economic development interests giddy with expectation. That was back in the day — not that long ago — when the state was looking to get on the map of places where companies in the exploding tech sector could settle and thrive. Utah is now firmly on that map. Utah’s approach in joining the festival of courtship for Amazon’s second head office and its 50,000 new jobs is one of confidence rather than desperation.
State leaders are astutely aware that the benefits of luring the so-called Amazon HQ2 to Utah’s doorstep would also create pressure to the labor force, housing market and transportation infrastructure. The enormous wave of growth along what is now known as “Silicone Slopes” has energized the state’s economy, transformed its demography and dispelled its image as a rural area tucked away in the Rocky Mountains. Because of that, the dynamics of attracting new business have been reversed. Companies like Amazon are naturally going to look toward Salt Lake City and its environs as an area to build. Meanwhile, the state is increasingly aware that too much of a good thing may not be good forever.
For perspective, employment in the tech sector has grown 31 percent in Utah over the last ten years. It has grown 8 percent in the last two years alone. The unemployment rate is down to 3.4 percent, among the lowest in the nation, and it is particularly low in the category of qualified workers in technology fields. In addition, the state is often touted in business media as a top location for new startup companies in the tech space, ensuring the growth will continue.
All of that considered, Amazon is a dominant player in the online retail world, and having its second headquarters in Utah would bring a big bounty, beginning with a $5 billion capital investment. Those responsible for the state’s bid have been circumspect as to just what the state may be offering, and while more than 230 bids have been submitted, Utah’s hasn’t been highly publicized. Yet, there’s a fair amount of buzz about the chances of it landing here nonetheless. Moody’s Analytics ranks Salt Lake City in the top-10 best locations for Amazon, as does a website that tracks architectural and corporate construction trends.
A common reason cited in those analyses is a relatively low cost of living, particularly in the area of housing. The bid for Amazon’s new facility thus raises an existential question about just where the state ought to be on the spectrum between courting new business or sitting back and waiting for new business to court Utah. Growth begets growth, and we are in the enviable position of enjoying prosperity from an industrial sector that was largely non-existent 20 years ago. State leaders are prudent to recognize this trend is bound to continue, regardless of where Amazon chooses to build.