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.