In his 2009 inaugural address, Gov. Gary R. Herbert challenged Utah to create unprecedented partnerships that would lead to unlimited possibilities for the state.
Utahns have responded to that challenge in impressive fashion. Indeed, one of Utah’s secrets to success is the willingness of companies and nonprofits to partner with government to solve problems and create a better place to live and do business. P3s (public-private partnerships) have played a critical role in helping Utah become the best-performing economy in the nation, and they will continue to be essential as we try to maintain our economic advantages.
There are myriad examples showing how Utah businesses and nonprofits have chosen to partner with state and local governments, as well as schools and universities, to find solutions to difficult problems.
Nothing is more important to businesses than having access to a qualified workforce. That is why so many companies choose to invest in education. Recently, Andeavor (formerly Tesoro) provided the STEM Action Center with a $1.5 million grant to create a traveling STEM bus. UTA donated a used bus, which was retrofitted with a lab, experiments and projects designed to help teach children about robotics, 3D modeling, renewable energy and other STEM-related subjects.
In its first few months, the bus has been a huge hit. It travels throughout the state visiting K-12 schools in both urban and rural communities, providing hands-on, real-world, project-based learning to generate a passion for STEM careers among youths. The bus is so popular there is now a waiting list for interested schools.
The Talent Ready Utah initiative is another program designed to bring education and industry together to find ways to better prepare students for high-demand jobs. Once again, the key to this program’s success is collaboration between government, education and business.
Probably the best examples of Talent Ready Utah are the Career Pathways Programs for aerospace, diesel technology, life sciences and information technology. In these programs, companies work with local school districts to create a curriculum to prepare students for jobs in their industry. The high school students take required classes at the high school and, in some cases, work as interns with the companies while still in school. Upon graduation, they receive a certificate that qualifies them for work in the industry.
Education is not the only beneficiary of business benevolence, however. The Department of Workforce Services has created the “Utah Patriot Partnership Program” This program encourages Utah businesses to give veterans priority status when hiring. This effort has helped lower the unemployment rate among Utah vets to 2.3 percent in 2016, ranking the state among the top five in the country for veteran employment.
And businesses are not the only entities partnering to make a positive difference. Dozens of nonprofits join forces with government to solve challenges relating to health care, homelessness, hunger, illiteracy, etc. They spend millions of dollars locally on those issues each year, saving taxpayers significant amounts of money.
Religions, also, partner with government to solve some of our most difficult challenges by contributing volunteers, money and supplies in times of need. They have been known to partner on efforts to upgrade the community, such as last year when the Mormon Church donated $3 million to help the state of Utah and Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County build the new $16 million rodeo arena at the state fairgrounds.
The bottom line is Utah is a better, stronger state economically and socially when the business community and nonprofits choose to partner with government to tackle critical issues. Government cannot and should not try to solve all problems for our community; however, when businesses and the public sector join forces, it provides a synergy that is stronger and more successful than either entity by itself.
Val Hale is the executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.