Spenser Heaps, Deseret News
FILE - Traffic moves slowly on I-15 in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017. A House committee Tuesday advanced a resolution hoping to cajole the federal government into combining Utah's three separately designated metro areas into one zone that reflects the contiguous economies of the Wasatch Front.

SALT LAKE CITY — It doesn't take too many trips up and down I-15 to realize that Ogden to Provo is, functionally, one very connected stretch of humanity.

But through the eyes of the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, the Wasatch Front is seen as three separate districts, or metropolitan statistical areas, and those designations, according to local experts, could be undermining Utah's ability to attract big corporate investments.

In presenting to a House committee Tuesday, Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said he hopes to address those issues through a resolution effort in HCR14.

"We are one of the most urban areas in the country when you look at the Wasatch Front collectively," Wilson said. "Someone from the outside may think those are three very distinct and independent economies, but anyone who lives here realizes those are all one economy — one area that is interconnected in a lot of ways."

Utah's three major metropolitan statistical areas are Ogden/Clearfield, Salt Lake City and Provo/Orem. On its website, the Census Bureau describes the groupings this way:

"The general concept of a metropolitan or micropolitan statistical area is that of a core area containing a substantial population nucleus, together with adjacent communities having a high degree of economic and social integration with that core."

One of the data sets metropolitan statistical areas rely heavily on to establish one community's integration with another is commuter volumes and, at this point, there isn't enough cross-border traffic between or among Ogden, Salt Lake City and/or Provo to get over that threshold.

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute analyzed issues related to possibly combining Utah metropolitan statistical areas, on behalf of the Salt Lake Chamber.

The Office of Management and Budget's minimum level for achieving "integrated" is 25 percent of the employed population commuting to a neighbor community. That number is far above the 14 percent of Utah County workers who currently make a daily trek to work in Salt Lake County, the 6 percent of Salt Lake County employees that work in Utah County, or the 20 percent of northern Utah workers that commute to Salt Lake County.

The Gardner analysts noted that while current commuter levels don't hit the federal mark, even when projected out by another 50 years, there were plenty of other economic connections between and among Utah's metropolitan statistical areas. They also noted that the three areas may have contributed to squelching Utah's chance to earn its way onto the short list of Amazon.com's location choices for its much-publicized secondary headquarters or HQ2.

"Had Salt Lake, Tooele, Utah and Juab counties been a single (metropolitan statistical area), it would have improved the region’s prospects in the competition for Amazon’s HQ2," the Gardner report read, in part. "In Moody’s Analytics’ rankings of metropolitan regions for HQ2, the Salt Lake City (metropolitan statistical area) came in 11th out of 65."

Michael Parker, Salt Lake Chamber vice president for public policy, told the committee that even though a combined metropolitan statistical area may not have cinched a deal with Amazon, it would certainly have given the state a better shot at at least making the finalist list.

"The Amazon HQ2 discussion really crystallized this for our board," Parker said. "The millions and millions and millions of dollars of free PR from being on that top 20 was unrealized because we’re carved up into these three metros."

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While the House Economic and Workforce Services Committee passed HCR14 out on a unanimous vote, even elevating it to placement on the House consent calendar, Wilson was judicious in assessing the effort's chances for motivating a status change from the Office of Management and Budget.

"(This resolution) might be like some of our federalism resolutions and be ignored by the federal government," Wilson said. "Or, they might take it into consideration as they review this process as they move forward."