Ravell Call, Deseret News stock
Aerial view of Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The Salt Lake City metro area is on the verge of significant economic expansion in the coming years, an analyst told business leaders Wednesday.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City metro area is on the verge of significant economic expansion in the coming years, an analyst told business leaders Wednesday.

Speaking at the Grand America Hotel Wednesday, Chris Ludeman, global president of capital markets for commercial real estate firm CBRE, said Salt Lake is among the relatively small number of mid-sized U.S. cities that are building the foundation necessary to thrive economically over the next several years. He said the combination of an educated workforce, availability and cost of labor, an international airport, along with other factors makes the metro area one of the best places for business in the nation.

"There is a lot going for Salt Lake City," he said.

Ludeman was the keynote speaker at CBRE 2018 Market Forecast breakfast event. In addressing the possible development of a proposed inland port that is under consideration by state and local civic leaders, he said the idea definitely has merit and "is not a pipe dream."

"The example of the (inland port located) outside of Kansas City (Missouri) and outside Dallas (Texas) where the intermodal yards are is real," he said. "It's the 'real deal' and as you get more product here (in Utah), it's going to stimulate ancillary job creation. It's the real deal."

He noted that the large coastal ports such as Long Beach, Los Angeles and Seattle have many advantages, but also face challenges with labor issues and other operational matters that would not necessarily be of concern in Salt Lake City.

"You've got work stoppages, you got the longshoremen (and) all those other things that sometimes can create a bottleneck," he explained. "People are looking for alternatives, not just for (saving) time, but sustainability (as well)."

He said Salt Lake developing an inland port could provide a viable option at a reasonable cost to businesses.

Ludeman said the key components for long-term, sustainable economic viability are all in place for the Salt Lake and Utah markets to prosper for years to come.

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"The availability and quality of labor, the relative cost and availability to house people (residential and commercial), the quality of education and opportunity for growth and the ancillary personal activities (for recreation) are attractive," he said. "All of those factors — opportunity, lifestyle, personal and professional growth — are all important. If you can get those things working together and keep a positive business environment, people and companies will be attracted to come."