Salt Lake City is no stranger to Business in Focus. In February 2017, the city was featured as the ‘Next Great American City.’ Indeed, this locale boasts countless opportunities for community and economic growth, has a pro-business environment, forward-thinking leadership, exceptional quality of life with outstanding assets and natural attractions, and it shows no sign of slowing its progress.
Salt Lake City is close to intermodal logistics and the global supply chain via access to Interstates 15 and 80, Salt Lake City International Airport and railroad connectivity. It enjoys a youthful population, an energetic downtown and beauty and recreation afforded by the Wasatch Front. It is also a hub for arts and culture.
Under the leadership of Mayor Jackie Biskupski and the recently established Salt Lake Economic Development department comprised of business development, arts and culture and redevelopment divisions, great strides have been made to market Salt Lake City’s strengths to display it as a place where both economy and community thrive.
Salt Lake City is taking a fresh and creative approach to development which is paying off. In her third state-of-the-city address, Mayor Biskupski provided an update on how effective development can be. Since its formation, Salt Lake Economic Development and its partners have attracted nearly $1 billion in capital investments and six thousand new jobs with an average annual salary of $66,000.
Over the last year and a half, Salt Lake Economic Development has not only recruited business and investment, but it has also supported the needs of existing business by conducting a survey of 854 companies and holding over two thousand meetings to understand and address their needs.
“One of the challenges that we’re hearing from the business community is being able to keep and retain talent, so we’re adding a workforce development position to assist us in looking at how we can connect employers and employees, as well as making sure that there is skills training that aligns with the needs of the business community,” said Salt Lake Economic Development Executive Director Lara Fritts.
Workforce development is a major component of Salt Lake Economic Development. “We have a wonderful challenge here in Utah that our job growth rate is outpacing our unemployment rate, so our unemployment rate is remaining low, but our job growth rate is remaining really high. We have a challenge in finding and keeping talent,” explained Fritts.
One of its workforce development initiatives is the Aerospace Pathways career program which was introduced by the State of Utah and encourages high-school graduates to consider careers in aerospace and composite manufacturing. These jobs pay a living wage and do not require a four-year degree.
Fritts cited an example of an employee who is working for $7.25 to $10 per hour. “How do you get them to stop their life to get the skills training they need to make $15 to $20 an hour, which is life-changing for them? It’s impossible when they’re trying to afford rent here when they’re hanging on by their fingernails. How do you ask them to stop and go get the training necessary? That’s one of the areas we’re really trying to find solutions to. We’re trying to be really creative in how we can enhance the skills of our existing employees.”
This is being achieved through a collaborative partnership pilot program. Twelve people were identified by Catholic Community Services to participate in the pilot and were offered housing, transit, job training and a guaranteed opportunity to interview with an employer upon graduation. Eight of them are now set to graduate from the program and upon graduating will receive a toolkit from Industrial Supply, a local company that is doing its part in preparing the graduates for a career in construction.
The pilot was supported by a team of volunteers and organizations such as the Department of Workforce, Salt Lake Community College, the local housing authority and private sector investors. The program is truly the embodiment of the notion that it takes a village. It also demonstrates the importance of stable housing, transit and access to training and education for economic development.
The pilot was introduced and developed between September and December 2017 and launched in January 2018, and has had outstanding results. It shows promise for the future of workforce development and job placement in Salt Lake City. The next step is to identify how to scale the program for maximum impact.
“Salt Lake City has done a great job, and our team has done a great job at really identifying the industry sectors that make us successful and really understanding the needs of the companies in the marketplace looking to expand,” said Fritts. “Utah is really fortunate, because in 2017, every industry sector grew which is sort of unheard of, but we continue to thrive here.”
Technology is a sector that is flourishing. While there is opportunity for growth, the city’s downtown has a low vacancy rate, and a strategy is being formulated to encourage the development of buildings in the city’s core. This will support the influx of technology companies that are attracted to the city’s urban center and young population.
Other sectors that are showing strength are medical device manufacturing and design, which draws on the power of the research and development and commercialization activities at the University of Utah. There is also a great deal of aerospace and composite manufacturing and construction.
“We had a wonderful roundtable that was hosted by the Federal Reserve of San Francisco, and during that roundtable, they were sort of a little surprised that we’re not trying to figure out how to bring more jobs to our community. We’re trying to figure out how to fill the jobs that we have,” explained Fritts.
The northwest quadrant of the city was identified by the state as the site of a new prison, and this development promises to spur investment in roads and utilities. The infrastructure outlay is welcomed by residents and stakeholders who have a vision for the area as a global logistics center.
“It was something that had been discussed for many years, but with the prison laying in some of the initial infrastructure, it really did open up the opportunity. So over the last number of months – about sixteen months – we’ve spent on this, we’ve accomplished a number of things,” said Fritts. The achievements include a land-use master plan flexibly zoned for light manufacturing, office buildings, hotels and restaurants.
Salt Lake City has undertaken extensive interested party outreach to devise a plan that supports the needs of the city and its residents. This is a city with a plan. In fact, it has multiple plans which include a land-use master plan, a designated community reinvestment area (CRA), a transit master plan, an affordable housing plan and a plan to revamp infrastructure in the city.
Mayor Biskupski has proposed a half-penny sales tax increase to fund the proposed improvements to transportation, infrastructure, housing and public safety. In 2017, Salt Lake City experienced a 5.8 percent decrease in city crime over the previous year proving that its initiatives are having a positive effect.
Another critical factor for growth is a partnership between the public and private sectors. Allies in development include the various economic development organization at the state, regional and local levels including Salt Lake Community College, the University of Utah, area schools, the Department of Workforce Services and many more.
“I look at our partners at the Economic Development Association of Utah and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development as my national and international sales team, and I view them as bringing those opportunities here in Utah. And it’s my job in Salt Lake City to capture those opportunities when they come,” said Fritts. “That type of partnership is amazing to have, and I think that we have shown that we can be as the capital city a leader and a model for other communities in Utah for how partnerships with the state can work.”
Salt Lake City has excelled by confronting challenges and turning them into opportunities for growth. As it encourages job growth, workforce development and supporting existing business, the city hopes to overcome past perceptions with its vision for an exciting, growing community and economy.
The city has become a hotbed for opportunity and is only getting started. This year is expected to be another big year for development, as $18 million of the redevelopment agency’s $21 million budget that was set aside by city council in October 2016 will be used to acquire several properties for housing development.
Another large forthcoming project is a plan to issue requests for funding proposals for housing projects. “We’ve set aside $10 million to put a request out for people to bring their best projects to us to invest in, and we’re really excited and optimistic about that,” explained Fritts.
According to Fritts, Salt Lake City will, “continue to cultivate vibrancy throughout the city. We are fortunate. We’ve talked a lot about workforce and large companies, but people want to live in cool places, and part of that living in a cool place is having stores and restaurants and smaller street-level businesses that make up our community.”
Salt Lake City wants to grow scalably, sustaining the development and continuing to be regarded as one of America’s great cities.