January in Utah seems like the perfect time to get lost in sunny California dreaming. When visiting Southern California or the Bay Area, the natural beauty is a certain reminder why millions of people live there. After a few moments of actually living among millions of people, you will realize why so many Californians are escaping to places like Utah.
From an economic standpoint, it is no surprise why Utah is a top destination of choice. An old joke in economic development circles goes something like this: What is Utah‘s greatest economic development tool: the California state Legislature. In Utah, state legislators meet for 45 days and spend the rest of the year living in the communities and working in the businesses impacted by the laws they make. In California, legislators are full-time politicians who meet year-round and whose measure of success is the number of regulations and government programs they create.
Despite the advantage of a legislature focused on creating a business-friendly environment, Utah’s greatest challenge in competing with Silicon Valley is the critical mass of top-drawer companies on every corner. Top talent has been drawn to Silicon Valley because they can have an exciting job at a great company one day and walk across the street to a new opportunity at a different Fortune 100 company the next.
There are many factors that went into creating Silicon Valley’s symbiotic environment as a magnet for top talent and business: outstanding research universities, high quality of life, available capital investment and an outstanding entrepreneurial ethos. But during a recent trip to Silicon Valley, I heard repeatedly from business leaders that overregulation and over-taxation is turning the tide against what free enterprise naturally seeks to build. High taxes, high cost of living and a commensurate decrease in the quality of life are pushing talent away from Silicon Valley. What will California do when the talent is gone and all that is left is traffic and taxes?
A few years ago on another visit to Silicon Valley, I listened to California’s governor speak on these challenges. He acknowledged the high taxes, the maddening traffic, the growing regulations and the high cost of living. I thought he was setting the stage for a big announcement of how the state was going to deal with these challenges. I was surprised by his conclusion that this is the price you pay to live in California. The greater surprise was community leaders at my table nodding their heads in agreement. That is the sort of complacency that leads to eventual defeat.5 comments on this story
In the short term, Utah will continue to see California talent and business coming to our state. In the long term, however, Utahns must be vigilant to avoid a similar complacency when facing our challenges such as education and air quality. Like all Utahns, I want to see prosperity continue to expand across the entire state. Similarly, I want to see my birth state of California be successful. For that reason, I am quick to add the good news that economic success does not have to be a zero sum game. The same correct principles of low taxes, reasonable regulation and empowering free enterprise can work for any state and the nation just as it has worked in Utah.