Utah’s economy is one of the best in the nation. The state ranks number one in the United States for job growth and enjoys consistently low unemployment. Small business is at the heart of this success with over 277,000 small businesses making up 99 percent of Utah companies and 57 percent of total employees.
You may ask yourself, as a visiting Chinese diplomat asked me, “How did a state I’ve never heard of become the fastest growing economy in the United States of America?” I’ll share with you what I shared with him, four elements that are fundamental to Utah’s thriving small-business ecosystem.
First is an educated workforce. Utah’s public education systems have a strong partnership with the business community to identify and close gaps in workforce skills. This collaboration is evident in the “Talent Ready Utah” initiative, which includes technical training for students through high school so they graduate with not only a degree but with a high-wage, high-demand job.
Second is taxes and regulation. Utah benefits from a flat 5 percent personal and corporate tax rate. Low taxes are important to small business, but equally important is a stable tax rate. Utah small businesses have benefited from the predictability of the state’s rate that has not risen in nearly 20 years.
In 2011, the state conducted one of the most thorough regulatory reviews in the nation. Gov. Gary Herbert asked each member of his cabinet to review every state rule and ask two simple questions: Does the regulation impact business? And, what is the public purpose? In nearly 400 instances there was no good answer to the second question, and so those rules were either modified or eliminated.
Third is incentives. Incentivizing job creation and sustainable growth is key to Utah’s economy. Several state programs assist new and existing businesses. The state also offers financial incentives for business relocation. These incentives are available to attract new business to Utah, and also to businesses already in Utah to help them to grow at home.
Fourth is international trade. Utah is a globally engaged state. Utah is an internationally minded state. Utah is a trade state. You may have read recent headlines that trade is killing the U.S. But trade is not killing Utah. In fact, Utah is killing it when it comes to trade. Utah is a trade surplus state to the tune of $4 billion annually. And Utah has one of the fastest growing export economies in the country.
These are all ways Utah is doing it right when it comes to supporting small business, but that doesn’t mean these companies don’t face challenges. In fact, many rural communities do not enjoy equally the fruits of Utah’s economic bounty. To address this challenge, Gov. Herbert set a goal to create 25,000 jobs in 25 rural counties. The kick-off to this goal was the 25K Jobs Tour where over 20 business service providers visited the 25 counties off the Wasatch Front to connect local business owners and job seekers with available tools and resources.
Based on my experience traveling the state on the 25K Jobs Tour, let me share what I believe is the most important element of Utah’s economic success: our people. Utah’s small-business owners, whether in urban Salt Lake City or rural Salina, epitomize the state’s motto of “Industry.” They are good, hard-working people with a strong entrepreneurial spirit that is keeping Utah’s pioneering heritage alive and well across the state.