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Far and away, the No. 1 issue, concern and opportunity in Utah was education — “preparing Utah young people for the jobs of the future with adequate education funding, and by matching skills development to the jobs available.”

With an important election ahead of us, and the legislative session behind us, now is a good time to think about the top issues and priorities facing Utah policymakers and residents. What are those opportunities and challenges — those “big gears” that will propel the state forward, or hold it back?

It’s important to put that question into proper context, remembering that Utah is doing very well compared to many states. Our economy is strong, and we enjoy a great quality of life.

Still, the regional, national and global competition is fierce. We can’t take anything for granted. If we don’t focus intently on solving Utah’s challenges, improving our economy, and investing in human and social capital, along with physical infrastructure, we will be overtaken.

So what is the agenda that will keep Utah ahead and take our state to the next level?

Working in conjunction with UtahPolicy.com and LaVarr Webb, we replicated an unscientific survey that we did a couple of years ago, asking about 40 Utah leaders in business, government and nonprofits to list and prioritize the projects and issues of highest importance in Utah. We provided a list of about two dozen issues and invited leaders to add their suggestions.

Far and away, the No. 1 issue, concern and opportunity was education — “preparing Utah young people for the jobs of the future with adequate education funding, and by matching skills development to the jobs available.”

It’s clear that Utah leaders fully understand that if our young people are adequately prepared, many other problems in society will be lessened, and many great opportunities will arise.

It is instructive that two of Utah’s top economic development leaders, Theresa Foxley, who directs the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, and Val Hale, who directs the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, both listed education as Utah’s top issue.

Foxley wrote, “The ‘long game’ of economic development is education, education, education, with a lot of infrastructure built in.”

Clearly, Utah should aspire to be the nation’s No. 1 education state. If we are successful, many other problems will take care of themselves. The legislature and governor made good progress in the last legislative session, but we still have much work to do.

The No. 2 issue identified by Utah leaders was continuing efforts to improve air quality. Positive steps are being taken, and it is gratifying that air quality is improving in the face of rapid growth, more vehicle travel and more economic activity. But air quality is still a big concern and the easy steps have been taken. All of us will need to alter our lifestyles a bit to make further progress.

Leaders mentioned three big interrelated infrastructure and development projects as major opportunities for Utah. I’ve lumped them together as the No. 3 top issue. They include capitalizing on the new $3 billion-plus international airport currently under construction, developing an inland port and related opportunities in Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant, and moving the state prison to allow the Point of the Mountain area to further developed as part of Utah’s remarkable high-tech corridor.

These three projects/developments could produce thousands of high-paying jobs and boost Utah’s economy for decades to come. Thankfully, we have wise and forward-thinking leaders providing support and oversight.

Other key issues included:

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  • Continue tax reform by broadening the sales tax base and reducing exemptions.
  • Encourage smart residential and commercial development using quality growth principles with mixed-use designs and urban clusters.
  • Water development and reform.
  • Deal with Utah’s serious housing shortage, including low-income housing.
  • Embrace new transportation technologies, including autonomous vehicles and smart highways.
  • Institutionalize the Count My Vote effort.
  • Advance the interests of women in politics, business, education and society.