Friction between leaders in blue cities with leaders in their respective red home states is not uncommon and is indicative of America’s larger urban/rural divide. But Utah is one of the most urbanized states in the country. While rural demands and urban demands often come into conflict in state politics, Utah’s 2018 Legislative Session has again demonstrated state leaders’ disregard for its capital city.
Over 80 percent of the state’s population is within an hour of Salt Lake City. As the economic and cultural capital, Salt Lake is also a critical contributor to regional growth. Yet, as evidenced by SB 234, a bill that would strip the city of governance of the Northwest Quadrant, state leaders do not see the capital city as a partner or major contributor to regional economic success.
The city has invested significant time and money in drafting a community vision for how to best develop the Northwest Quadrant. By only allowing one city representative on an 11-member board, the state has a disproportionate amount of control over a large, ecologically sensitive area that resides entirely within Salt Lake City limits.
In the nearly four years I’ve covered development, I have seen first hand how important Salt Lake is to the larger local economy. When national media outlets write about the Silicon Slopes, they focus on Salt Lake City, not Lehi.
Salt Lake is the Wasatch Front’s representative to the rest of the country. Yes, most of the recent commercial office growth has been centered in the communities surrounding the Point of the Mountain, but Salt Lake City proper has been leading in multifamily growth. In 2017, over half of the multifamily units in development from Ogden to Provo, where underway in Salt Lake, despite the city only accounting for around 8 percent of the region’s population.
New residents may work in Lehi, but they want to live in Salt Lake.
Many millennial tech workers are willing to commute 35 miles to Lehi from Salt Lake City because they value urban living and the cultural offerings unique to the state’s largest city. When out-state residents consider relocating to the region, it is Salt Lake City that they are researching and for many of them it is the city’s inclusive community and proximity to the Wasatch Mountains that brings them here.
The Wasatch Front economy, especially in Utah and Salt Lake Counties, is booming and the region is becoming increasingly dependent on attracting new workers to the state to meet employment demands.
In general, these new workers won’t be a part of the state’s dominant culture and as younger workers are more likely to relocate for employment, many will opt for diverse urban areas like Salt Lake over the suburban communities at the Point of the Mountian.
Utah needs Salt Lake. As the state continues to attract more national attention, most of that attention will be on Salt Lake. For most tech companies, low taxes and a pro-business environment must also include proximity to a progressive urban center. Without Salt Lake’s inclusive policies and reputation, Lehi would be less attractive to companies considering expanding business in Utah (See Denver, Atlanta, Nashville and Austin, Texas as examples).
Salt Lake is a critical partner in the region’s economic growth, not an obstacle to state control. In attempting to take away the city’s ability to control its own economic development of an ecologically sensitive area, state leaders not only weaken its capital city but the region it serves.