Inside the newsroom this week came this observation: The world is not coming to an end, it's just closed for business.
The statement seems absurd at first, yet the events of the past week and the forecast for the future suggest it's an apt description of current events and it comes with this sobering question: If the world is closed for business, can Utah survive the closure?
Here's a snapshot of the week:
Government shutdown continues without resolution. Sunday snowstorm stalls Washington on Monday. President Donald Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi play chicken with the State of the Union address and military aircraft (grounding any trips).
A planned trip by White House officials to Davos, Switzerland, to the World Economic Forum is cancelled, affecting U.S. economic partners. A planned congressional trip by Pelosi and her colleagues to Afghanistan was postponed after military aircraft were grounded by President Trump. The release by the White House of news of the trip itself prevented Pelosi and her colleagues, she said, from making the trip on commercial airlines because of an increase in safety concerns, affecting congressional oversight of international areas of conflict.
In Utah, the state's Economic Report to the Governor was delivered to Gary Herbert as some of the state's best economists delivered a glowing report that came with a warning. And by Sunday, America will know who will play in the Super Bowl, despite threats that the government shutdown could cause delays and even security risks for those flying into Atlanta to watch the game.
International and domestic economic activity and international security were all part of this disruptive week and it all stems from an apparent lack of trust and integrity on the part of our leaders in Washington. In other words, the government shutdown is not just about the 800,000 federal employees not receiving checks, including about 10,000 in Utah. Its ripples have global impact and it's an impact that could last long beyond the actual time the government remains shut down threatening the well-being of, well, the entire world.
Then came Saturday. President Trump made an offer at compromise, pushing rights for children of immigrants to temporarily stay and work in America by codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, provided he's given money to build the wall. He also proposed significant dollars to shore up the border in other ways, including an increase in technology. Before his Saturday speech was even delivered, Nancy Pelosi put out a statement saying it was a non-starter. That's neither compromise nor negotiation.
So what is now at risk?
Consider what we learned at the Utah Economic and Public policy Forum on Friday:
• Every economic industrial sector in Utah expanded, adding more than 48,000 new jobs last year.
• The state's 3.3 percent job growth ranked highest in the nation.
• And, "the Utah Economic Council projects Utah and the nation's economic expansion will surpass 10 years by mid-summer 2019 and be the longest on record," according to the report.
That's great news, unless — and here comes the warning — unless something hurts the confidence of business leaders and consumers. Unless something artificially disrupts the growth and momentum. Unless a loss in confidence results in a loss of trust in government to solve problems and keep the economy moving.
The rosy economic picture could be entirely altered by the government shutdown and the partisan fight on display in the nation's capital. So the key word, this week, which also emerged in discussions inside the newsroom with reporters, is "uncertainty."
"We don't want 'the R-word' to become a self-fulfilling prophecy," Gov. Gary Herbert told the large gathering at the economic summit on Friday, held at the Salt Lake City Creek Marriott. "R" of course stands for recession. The space from confidence to uncertainty is shrinking with each passing day of the government shutdown.
How high are the stakes?
Very high, particularly if you're looking for a job or to enhance your current employment. And high if you're preparing to buy a home. Utah's prosperity comes with higher home prices with a median home price of $320,000, a 12 percent increase over the previous year. Perhaps more importantly, that translates into a monthly payment of $1,859, an 18 percent increase over the previous year. Housing solutions need to be fueled by a strong economy.
Nevertheless, Washington's dysfunction can be partially checked by what Utah has going for it, namely five things that makes Utah resilient.31 comments on this story
Chief economist Natalie Gochnour, who is also director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, noted that the state benefits from a diverse economy, allowing it to withstand recession; has a young, creative workforce; has a global economy, exporting $12 billion and attracting the world to its parks and ski mountains; and is located at the "crossroads of the West," providing transportation advantages that helps distribute goods throughout the West.
And there's one other thing, Gochnour notes: Utah's social cohesion is the "secret sauce" that allows Utahns of all stripes to find common ground no matter how big the problem nor how diverse the population.
So perhaps the goal for 2019 should be figuring out a way to export that secret sauce to Washington, D.C. If ketchup and mayonnaise can create fry sauce, there must be something good to be made up of a mix of Republicans and Democrats willing to stop threatening all of us.