Utah’s capital of Salt Lake City has a great deal of potential and could become the next ‘Great American City’ according to prominent local economist Natalie Gochnour. The city offers businesses and residents multiple advantages including a pro-business climate and an unmatched quality of life that is due in large part to its abundant natural resources.
When it comes to marketing itself, Salt Lake City means business. Utah is ranked as the best location in which to do business and has a bright economic outlook with collaborative partnerships leading the way.
Taking the lead on economic growth and community development is Salt Lake City Economic Development, a department that was newly-established under the leadership of Mayor Biskupski. It was formed as a direct measure to promote the city’s unique qualities.
“When Mayor Biskupski took office back in January, during her campaign, she ran on an agenda that was heavy in economic development,” Executive Director Lara Fritts explained. “So, when she took office, she wanted to make sure economic development was really seen as an important part of the city, so much so, that she took what was a division in another department and pulled it out to create the department of economic development.”
“Under this department, there are three divisions. We have the business development division, which oversees the recruitment, retention, expansion efforts and start-up efforts, and then we have the arts and culture, which is a little bit unique but an important part of our economy. We wanted to make sure we were utilizing the arts as a catalyst for business development. And the other piece of our puzzle is the redevelopment agency.”
Fritts and the department of economic development work in collaboration with local stakeholders including education partners, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Economic Development Corporation of Utah, Downtown Alliance, tourism organizations, Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce and many others local economic and social organizations.
“We’ve developed great relationships with our state economic development entities, and within those state economic development entities comes a sort of national and international sales team. So we really look to them to be the ones that are out there on a national basis talking to companies and bringing those opportunities back here to Utah,” Fritts acknowledged.
“We have an amazing skilled workforce that is ready and able to work, and I think that is a big piece of our quality of life. There’s just an incredible housing stock as well, so depending on your income and your interest in type of housing, we have it to offer in the city,” noted Fritts.
Quality of life plays a major role in here. Salt Lake City boasts all the amenities that one would need to be successful in business or establish the lifestyle one would want to live.
Salt Lake City’s location along the Wasatch Front is naturally beautiful, but that is only the starting point in terms of what it has to offer. It is a place for business to thrive, especially targeted industries such as outdoor sporting goods, medical, financial services, life sciences, aerospace, high-tech and companies with a sustainable focus.
This is the only city in the state of Utah to have a Foreign Trade Zone designation. It also has many programs and incentives such as financing. Salt Lake City has port access as Union Pacific Rail is linked to major seaports in L.A., Oakland, Portland and Seattle, and the city serves as an interstate hub with I-15 and I-80, offering access to the West Coast and central distribution to Canada and Mexico.
UPS is the latest company to take advantage of the city’s distribution and logistical abilities by investing $187 million in creating a regional hub in the city. The investment will result in the creation of 1,500 jobs and have a significant impact on the local economy.
The Northwest Quadrant is another area of growth for the city. This area is located just west of the city and has landed on the radar because of the state’s decision to purchase a significant portion of land to build a new prison. Not only will land be available for development, but the state is also investing in the infrastructure leading to the prison. The city is developing a master plan for this area to address the opportunity.
The Salt Lake City Redevelopment Agency (SLCRDA) is another proponent of community growth. “We are so fortunate to have the redevelopment agency as part of our department,” Fritts said.
“We really felt that this was an opportunity to focus on two key things,” she said. “The first is initiating opportunities for public sector projects. We recently completed something called the Eccles Theatre. It’s a Broadway-level theatre with about 2,500 seats, and it is truly an amazing facility. And then second, is to facilitate opportunities for private sector projects.”
Fritts and the Department of Economic Development are creating a plan to ensure that resources are available to achieve success. “There were several different areas that came into play,” Fritts said. “The first is financial services. Part of the reason why is, we have a very large division of Goldman Sachs here. We have Fidelity and a number of other different financial service firms in the city, so we felt that was a very important industry.”
“With the university being here, we also have a large medical school and so the whole idea of life sciences and building off the University of Utah Research Park. We have this beautiful research center adjacent to the campus of the University of Utah, and there are growing life sciences companies and technology being developed in that park, so we want to build upon that.”
Salt Lake City has a thriving technology sector with everything from software development to gaming and can support additional growth, which is attractive to prospective companies.
Salt Lake City is also home to several professional sports teams including the Utah Jazz, Grizzlies, Blaze and Real Salt Lake, as well as highly competitive university athletics teams that bring the city name and reputation to the national and international stage.
The Salt Lake City Airport allows the city to serve the aerospace and advanced composites sectors, as well as its tourism industry. Tourists and locals come for exciting outdoor sports and recreational activities including biking, hiking and skiing.
“We’re really fortunate that Salt Lake City hosts the outdoor recreation show [Outdoor Retailer Market] twice a year, which really provides us an opportunity to regularly talk with the industry and continue to build upon it here in the city. What better testing grounds for bike components or ski equipment than Salt Lake City, where you can get off a plane, and within thirty minutes, you can be on a ski hill?”
Music festivals, the Salt Lake City Symphony, culinary gems, breathtaking vistas, great schools, and a diverse housing stock all contribute to the outstanding atmosphere enjoyed by residents and the many visitors who flock to the city each year.
Placemaking is a key component of the development efforts, as the city has proactively focused on arts and cultural initiatives, recognizing the importance of both art and culture in shaping the community.
Fritts is hoping that Salt Lake City will get the recognition for its arts and cultural programming that it deserves. “Public art is a big component of everything we do in our department. We are always looking for ways to add that special touch that makes our community special and unique.” Hard work is being done to communicate these efforts.
“I’m a big believer that if people don’t know what you are doing there is an assumption that you are doing nothing,” said Fritts. “But, I am also a big believer that it has to be very data driven – that every decision we make has to be backed with some sort of data.”
Fritts and her team are developing a strategic marketing plan and joining with community partners to support targeted investments. Being proactive has already produced great results. By June 2017, Salt Lake City Economic Development intends to have made its plan to drive future growth by building off of its current momentum.
Salt Lake City has achieved success through an improved focus on economic growth, social development and creating spaces with an artistic flair. Through collaboration, partnership and leadership that encourages business, Salt Lake City is doing whatever it takes to elevate the community to become what many already believe it to be: the next Great American City.