Ravell Call, Deseret News
Aerial view of Salt Lake City, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. With Utah's employment economy among the strongest in the nation, ensuring that all Utahns are treated fairly when it comes to wages is a top priority for the state's largest business association.

SALT LAKE CITY — With Utah's employment economy among the strongest in the nation, ensuring that all Utahns are treated fairly when it comes to wages is a top priority for the state's largest business association.

"Like work should get like pay regardless of what gender, race or ethnicity," said Derek Miller, president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. Speaking to an audience of state business and civic leaders at the organization's annual meeting at the Little America Hotel Tuesday in downtown Salt Lake City, Miller said the chamber will focus its efforts on closing the gender pay gap that currently exists in Utah and around the country.

Noting that women, on average, make less than men in the workplace, he said rectifying the problem will require some acknowledgment from business leaders who may be unwittingly impacted by longtime inclinations they aren't consciously aware of.

"I believe we have business leaders in Utah that recognize the problem, want to solve the problem but just don't really know how to go about doing it because of those internal, not-always-visible biases within the (current employment) system," he explained. The chamber is working with local women's groups and devising a list of possible ideas that will help mitigate the pay equity issue going forward with the goal of total equality, he said.

Currently, the chamber is using focus groups to test some of the ideas that have been put forth to determine their effectiveness, he said. They hope to present a draft to local businesses to get their input on potential implementation, he added.

"We're trying to test the model right now," Miller said. "We'll be ready to roll something out in the next few weeks."

He said gender pay equity is not only a local issue but one of global importance as countries around the world examine how to make the employment sector one of fairness and wage equality everywhere.

Another community issue of immediate importance is the Wasatch Front's growing housing shortage, said Steve Starks, incoming chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber's board of governors and president of the Utah Jazz and Larry H. Miller Sports & Entertainment. He said the chamber will focus on mitigating the strain all three primary housing markets — existing homes, rentals and new construction.

"We need to address how are we going to accomplish all of this," he said. "How is that we can plan for open space, create higher density single-family (housing) without reducing the quality of life that people have?"

He said it will be incumbent for citizens to think differently than in previous years, as well as cities and towns reconsidering how to implement zoning ordinances so they can accommodate the housing needs of future generations.

"It's got to be an ongoing conversation for our community," Starks said. "Salt Lake has become a big city. It's changed. And like other major cities that have dealt with housing policy, we're going to have to make decisions and face the reality of where we are right now."

The Salt Lake Chamber, which is celebrating its 131st year as an organization, owes much of its success to the businessmen and women of Utah who donate their time and talent for the betterment of the entire Beehive State, Miller told the audience of approximately 500 people.

“This year we have accomplished a lot together and we could not have done it without our outstanding chamber members, volunteers and supporters," he said.

Wilford Clyde, outgoing chairman of the group's board of governors and chairman and CEO at Clyde Cos., said “when we engage and get our employees involved with the Salt Lake Chamber, we send the message that not only do we believe in them but also believe in the good work the chamber is doing.”

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Honorees for the annual event included Goldman Sachs as the corporate partner of the year; Intermountain Healthcare as the community partner of the year; and Parr Brown Gee & Loveless recognized with the President’s Award for Excellence. Individuals honored as "Chamber Champions" included Vance Checketts, chief operating officer with DSCO; Janet Healy, director of Catholic Community Services of Utah; Ray Pickup, president and CEO of WCF Insurance; Sally Steed, vice president of advertising with Utah Media Group; and Brittany Westover, vice president of commercial banking with JP Morgan Chase.

"This year’s honorees really stepped up and helped to make a difference in our local community," Miller said. "We are so grateful for everything they have done, and will continue to do, to help bolster Utah’s business community.”