Building our economic cathedral

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Prepared remarks given by Scott Parson at the 108th Annual Meeting and Small Business Awards. Parson is chairman of the Salt Lake Chamber Board of Governors and president of Staker Parson Companies.

I’m reminded of the story from some eight centuries ago when a cathedral was being constructed in a French village.

Everyone was involved, from stonemasons to carpenters and from architects to tea ladies, and the whole process took over a hundred years.

One day a visitor to the city stopped at the construction site and, seeing the people at work, proceeded to ask the villagers what they were doing.

The carpenter told him “I’m cutting these boards for the scaffolding team.”

The stonemason replied “I’m shaping the stone for the east wing foundations.”

The glassblower said he was making windows and the architect said he was finalizing some of the designs.

Finally the visitor asked an old lady sweeping up debris in the courtyard what she was doing, and she responded… “I’m building a cathedral.”

At Staker Parson Companies, we supply construction materials and build strong foundations and roads that connect us.

We are part of the community, working together to build something bigger than our business.

We are building an economic cathedral. We are building the Utah economy. And we’re building the strongest economy in the world.

In this room we have bankers, commercial property managers and health care professionals. We have homebuilders, economists and politicians… educators executives and lawyers. Each of us has a specialty but we’re all building the cathedral that is the Utah economy.

As we build our cathedral… just like with any building… we must start with a strong foundation.

Over the past two years… we have weathered a severe economic storm. But through these challenges we have invested wisely and we find ourselves perfectly positioned to accelerate out of the Great Recession.

Our strong foundation was a key component of our performance during the downturn and as we grow again, we must ensure that the foundation is solid not only to support the growth we see ahead, but also to prepare for the difficulties that may lie even further down the road.

As I like to say… “The foolish man builds his house upon the sand. The wise man builds his house upon concrete!”

Now is the time to strengthen the foundation of Utah’s economy.

It’s easy to say, “we need to strengthen our foundation.” I don’t get a lot of boos or heads shaking in disagreement when I say that. But we need to get into some specifics. So today I want to share with you five pillars of strength—five areas of focus that will help us build a world-class economy.

The first pillar is WORKFORCE.

All businesses need employees—they are the lifeblood of successful organizations. As business leaders, you understand the importance of surrounding yourselves with talented, skilled and engaged employees.

Utah’s young, well-educated workforce is renowned the across the nation and is a significant competitive advantage for businesses looking to grow in our state. Just look at the businesses that have decided to come to Utah—or to expand here: Adobe, Twitter, Goldman Sachs. (And I should mention Salt Lake is now the second largest Goldman Sachs operation in the Americas… and the most-demanded work location among Goldman Sachs employees.) The National Security Administration recently broke ground on the Utah Data Center. When completed, it will employ 200 Utahns—not to mention approximately ten thousand construction-related jobs needed to build the facilities.

These organizations see a foundation upon which they can build and they’re eager to grow right here in Utah.

Of course, it’s not all about the businesses that come to Utah… it’s about the homegrown businesses, too.

Overstock.com is growing. Fusion-io is growing. 1-800 Contacts is growing. So are Coherex, Merit Medical and RanLife.

Just as our workforce is a significant benefit to homegrown Utah companies and a beacon to those looking for refuge from bankrupt states with increasing tax rates… our commitment to developing and strengthening our workforce must be equally strong. And as Utah’s business leader, we will lead out on education.

Business is education’s biggest customer. Those who are students today will be workers, managers and CEOs tomorrow.

The Chamber has worked with other business, community and education groups to lay-out the Prosperity 2020 vision. This is the most significant business-led education initiative in our state history. We know the path to enduring prosperity begins with education and we will ensure we have the workforce to propel Utah’s economy for decades to come.

The second pillar is INFRASTRUCTURE.

Over the past several years, we have invested in our infrastructure and we have seen the benefits to both business and to quality of life that comes as a result.

Economic prosperity requires efficient transportation systems and now is the time to continue to invest.

We have greatly benefitted from our foresight. Half a decade ago the Chamber brought this issue to the forefront and because we tackled our congestion issues head on, we now benefit from what Forbes calls the nation’s swiftest commute and we’re on target to lay 70 miles of rail over seven years.

We are much better positioned to keep goods moving through our state, to keep people out of gridlock and to enhance the quality of life at the Crossroads of the West.

But infrastructure includes much more than just transportation. To fulfill our economic potential, we must continue to improve the state’s education, energy and utility infrastructure.

The third pillar is ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

Low taxes, competitive energy rates, reasonable regulations… efficient infrastructure, a world-class workforce and increased merchandise exports create the environment for economic success and we’re focusing on all of these.

But even as the economy recovers… too many Utahns—more than 100-thousand—woke up this morning without a job.

The business community has no higher priority than putting those Utahns back to work.

As Lane mentioned, we have a plan to create 150-thousand jobs over the next five years. It is an ambitious plan. But working together, we will get there.

The fourth pillar is BUSINESS CLIMATE.

I could have put the word “Forbes” on this pillar.

Forbes loves Utah and has become a de facto cheerleader for our state.

As I mentioned, Forbes has lauded our commute the nation’s swiftest and last fall ranked Utah as the “Best State for Business and Careers.” Other media outlets including CNBC and Newsweek have heaped praise on our state—with Newsweek calling Utah the “economic Zion.”

We have worked hard to cultivate a business friendly environment. Our efforts as a business community and as a Chamber will continue to foster the world’s best climate for business growth and success.

The fifth pillar is PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

The continued development of our workforce is key. Earlier this afternoon, Lane announced a new program the Chamber provides to help businesses develop the skills and harness the potential of their employees. Chamber University will help businesses of all sizes strengthen their teams as they learn skills that help them elevate their performance.

Education cannot end with graduation. We all need to find a way to be better tomorrow than we are today. As the old saying goes, “if you ain’t growin’ you’re dyin’!” To keep our economy growin’ we need to keep our skills, our dedication and our vision growin’!

Our focus on workforce, infrastructure, economic development, business climate and professional development will serve as the foundation of our world-class economy and, ultimately, enhance Utah as the best place to do business, not just in the West, not just in the United States but in the world.

To get there we must be proactive. We must be deliberate and we must be strategic.

My clarion call for you today is to do your part to build the world’s strongest economy.

The Chamber is the hub of business leadership. The close ties of business leaders, speaking out with one voice, working with our elected officials… it all plays an important role in achieving our goal.

Your membership in the Chamber, your participation and your support are vital. It’s no coincidence that our Chamber’s influence is proportional to the strength of our state economy. Engaged business leaders are essential to our success.

I want to thank Lane and the tremendous Chamber staff he’s assembled. I also want to thank the Executive Board and the Board of Governors for their outstanding service and wise leadership. And I want to thank all Chamber members who serve on committees and task forces and who do the work that makes us successful.

Thank you all for your support of the Salt Lake Chamber and thank you for your role in building our economic cathedral.

Utah’s approach to immigration will impact our economy

Friday, September 10th, 2010

LISTEN: Chamber Business Minute

There are a lot of measurable things that make Utah’s economy so good—even in tough times. Businesses are attracted to our state by the lowest energy rates in the nation, our young, well-educated workforce, and our geographic position at the Crossroads of the West.

But there are also some “intangibles” that make Utah attractive to businesses, clients and visitors. It’s our reputation as a welcoming, friendly, international community.

The 2002 Winter Olympic Games were more than a great athletic event; they were a showcase for our state. By the way we welcomed the world, we showed that this was a special place—a reputation we still benefit from today.

Good reputations take time to build and they can be damaged very quickly.

One of the hottest issues in our community is immigration and the way we handle the issue can further enhance our reputation as a welcoming, international state or it can do significant damage to it.

The manner in which we address the immigration issue will have a considerable impact on our economy.

At the Salt Lake Chamber, we’re working with other organizations within or community to make sure Utah’s solution really benefits Utah. This is a complex issue that doesn’t have a simple answer and it will take our best minds to craft a solution that works for all Utahns.

LISTEN: Chamber Business Minute

Relationships play important role in business advocacy

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Business leaders have a strong voice with elected officials in both the executive and legislative branches, and we play an important role in crafting public policy that strengthens business and the local economy.

The relationships our business leaders develop with Utah’s federal delegation are just as important as those they build with members of the State Legislature. Next month, the Chamber will visit Washington, D.C. to meet with members of our senators and congressman to give their input on issues relevant to Utah’s economy.

But his visit is more than just a meet-and-greet. We’ve organized four policy tracks to help Chamber members do a “deep-dive” on issues including health reform, energy, international business and downtown development.

The trip is scheduled for September 12-15. We know that time is very valuable so we’ve built in time during the schedule foryou to take care of matters with the home office and to see the sites in the Nation’s Capital if you so desire.

This is a great opportunity for you to get to know our federal delegation, or to get to know them better and—perhaps more importantly—to help them understand the issues affecting your business.

Whether this is your first trip with the Chamber to Washignton, D.C. or if you’ve been several times before, I invite you to join us. For pricing information or to register for the trip, CLICK HERE.

Signs of improvement all around

Friday, August 13th, 2010

All around us we’re starting to see signs that the economy is on the upswing and that Utah will be the state to lead the nation out of the Great Recession.

Just this week, Governor Herbert told an audience in Cedar City that, “Utah is back!” I couldn’t agree more.

The governor was referring specifically to the fact that we, as a state, now have two consecutive months of job growth. Our unemployment number, although higher than anyone would like, has remained below the national figure as the nation made its way through the longest, deepest and widest economic downturn since the Great Depression.

This year alone, downtown Salt Lake City has seen more than 20 storefront businesses open in the Central Business District. That’s good news on paper and has contributed to the very real energy in our dynamic urban center.

Those numbers don’t include a number of businesses that have relocated to downtown, and they don’t include some of the big name businesses that have expanded or announced plans to grow in Utah.

The list is impressive–particularly for the tech-savvy: Adobe, Twitter (you can follow the Chamber, by the way at @saltlakechamber) and EA Sport, which expanded and moved downtown, just to name a few.

I like to say that success builds upon success. Momentum is a great thing to have on your side. In Utah we have it and we’ll continue to build on it as we build the nation’s top economy.

Immigration requires unique vision

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

AUDIO: Salt Lake Chamber Business Minute

Immigration has been a hot topic recently and it’s a topic you’ll hear a lot about over the next few months. The Salt Lake Chamber has proposed an innovative state immigration policy… combining the need for federal action with supportive state action that protects the public and sustains the economy.

Utah is not a border state. Immigration affects us differently than other states, particularly those with an international border. The Chamber supports a solution that is unique to Utah and reflects our culture as a welcoming, friendly and international community.

Ultimately, immigration and border security are federal issues that require federal policy and enforcement. We encourage Congress to enact comprehensive reform and we expect our federal delegation to address the issue in a manner than reflects the values of our state.

The manner in which Utah resolves the immigration issue will have far-reaching effects on our state economy—for better or worse. Carefully crafted immigration policy can strengthen our state economy. For two years the Chamber has supported an employer-sponsored worker program that addresses many of the issues of concern. A summary of the program is available at slchamber.com.

We applaud Governor Herbert for bringing together interested groups to discuss the future of immigration policy in Utah. The parties that participated passionately seek a solution and each emphasizes an important element of future state policy. As the debate progresses, we urge a civil and constructive discourse.

AUDIO: Salt Lake Chamber Business Minute

Taking our issues to the nation’s capital

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

I was honored to participate in the governor’s Immigration Summit at the State Capitol last week. More than anything, it was important to bring together so many people, with diverse views on, and similar passion for, the issue. Bringing these parties together, where most expressed a desire for a civil debate as we move forward, was an outcome worthy of applause.

When we realize that each argument—from either side and in the middle—has value. When we choose to respect those who disagree with us, we can work together to find a solution. The truth is, we’re all in this together and we ultimately have one common goal: to make Utah better.

For over two years, the Chamber has endorsed an employer-sponsored work program. Moving forward we will continue to push for a solution from the federal government. We also need to understand that any action by the state on the immigration issue will have an effect on our economy. Utah deserves a solution that is uniquely suited to this one-of-a kind state.

Members of our federal delegation want to understand the position of the business community on immigration as well as the other issues. To help make that happen, we’re taking a group of business leaders to the nation’s capital from September 12-15.

I encourage you to join us as we meet with members of our delegation and get valuable insight in four policy tracks including energy, health care, international business and technology.

You can find more information on the trip, including special airfare offers by clicking here.

Chart Toppers

Friday, July 16th, 2010

This past week Utah found itself atop two more lists—it’s becoming a common occurrence. More and more, the national media is looking at Utah as a great place to live and to do business.

The financial news network CNBC released its annual ranking of top states for business and Utah made the top ten scoring particularly high in quality of life and for our young, well-educated workforce. The Chamber has been working to strengthen the state’s education performance, recognizing the value of a first-class workforce.

Parenting magazine also ranks Salt Lake City as one of the “Best Cities for the Economy 2010.” Our ranking on this list was boosted by our low commute time and unemployment rate along with our strong property values.

Utah is a special place and something very special is happening here. Other are taking notice and that’s why we find ourselves at the top of the list when it comes to great places to live.

A week in the life of Downtown Rising

Friday, July 9th, 2010

Brick by brick, steel girder by steel girder and glass pane by glass pane, the Downtown Rising movement becomes a reality as the construction cranes that dot the skyline of our capital city move back and forth.

We celebrate the completion of projects like 222 Main and the O.C. Tanner flagship store in the renovated planetarium. We watch with great anticipation as the City Creek Center sprouts before our eyes. And this week, we heralded the announcement of a new headquarters for great Utah company and broke ground for another key piece in the Downtown Rising movement.

333 South State will be the new headquarters of Questar Corp.

Tuesday, Wasatch Commercial Management and Zions Bank announced they have partnered to build 333 South State. The building, which will be built the parking lot west of the Chamber of Commerce Building, will serve as the headquarters of Questar Corp.

This building forms a strong anchor in the Skyline district at the south end of downtown, complementing the City Creek project at the north end.

In the original Downtown Rising vision, we foresaw the Skyline District as one bustling with activity, the home of new corporate headquarters suitable for the largest concentration of office workers. The Questar headquarters fits perfectly into the vision.

The downtown Harmons is scheduled for completion in fall 2011.

Thursday, we broke ground on another critical element of the Downtown Rising movement. As residential units in the City Creek Center welcome their first residents  (with plenty more still under construction), the need for a neighborhood grocer becomes rather evident. The new 43,410 square-foot Harmons is scheduled to open in the autumn of 2011 just a few months before the scheduled completion of the City Creek project.

There has never been a better time to be associated with Salt Lake City. Something truly remarkable is going on in the capital city of the New American West. What began as a vision has become a movement and is now becoming a reality and both 333 South State and the downtown Harmons are further evidence of that.

Shop North Temple, I do

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Shop North Temple from Salt Lake Chamber on Vimeo.

Utah is one of the most forward-thinking and forward-building states in the nation when it comes to mass transit. We’re well on our way to laying 70 miles of rails over seven years. By 2015 we’ll have commuter rail running from Weber County to Utah County as well as four new TRAX lines—including one to the airport.

Just over two months ago, the Airport TRAX project took a significant step forward with the demolition of the North Temple Viaduct. Once the new viaduct is in place, it will provide better access to the Gateway, a TRAX station for the Airport line and an additional FrontRunner stop.

Businesses benefit from TRAX lines but the construction period present serious challenges. That’s why we hope you’ll take every opportunity to shop North Temple.

Throughout the valley you will see people wearing these pins that say “Shop North Temple, I do.”

The Salt Lake Chamber is proud to support the more than 100 businesses that operate along North Temple. They are all worth the extra effort it takes to shop, eat, or do business.

We honored one of these great businesses as one of our Small Business Award Winners earlier this year. If you haven’t eaten at the Red Iguana, you really haven’t experienced Salt Lake City. Businesses like the Red Iguana need our support during construction of the Airport TRAX line.

And you can find some great deals along North Temple. Several businesses are offering “TRAX Construction deals.” You can find them online at our website slchamber.com.

When the Airport TRAX line is completed, the wonderful businesses along North Temple will thrive. In the meantime, they need our support and our business.

Charting the course

Friday, June 25th, 2010

This week we held the annual Board of Governors retreat. This is an important day as we discuss our public policy work and get counsel on how the business community wants to proceed.

Education was voted the development of our workforce followed by immigration and economic development.  There is no issue more critical to the long-term prosperity of our state than education. Going forward we’re focused not only on investment, but also on innovation to make sure we continue to benefit from a well-educated workforce.

In the past year, the Chamber has played a critical role in protecting funding for both public and higher education. Governor Herbert and the State Legislature wisely chose to invest when other states could not. The investment in the development of our workforce will pay off for years to come.

The Board of Governors also showed strong support for a number of other policies we’ve pursued over the past several years. In the coming year, we’ll work to strengthen our economy by focusing on transportation, energy, health system reform, international business and an effort to enhance air quality.

The challenges we face provide us with some wonderful opportunities to shape the future of our state. I’m grateful for a engaged board made up of business leaders that want to contribute to our efforts.