When I took office as governor in August 2009, I laid out a bold goal: Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premiere global business destination. I am as committed to that goal today as I was then, and I am even more confident in our ability to achieve it.
As a state, we have risen to the challenge during a strenuous period in our history. Many will rightfully say we have weathered the storm of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. But that only tells part of the story. Utah didn't simply weather the storm, we strategically positioned ourselves by decisions made in the face of daunting circumstances, and by wise choices made in times of plenty to strengthen our competitive advantage.
By keeping taxes low, reducing unnecessary regulations, preserving our Rainy Day Fund and protecting education funding, our state is now positioned as an economic leader.
Compare Utah with the rest of the nation. Our wages are on the rise while unemployment is declining. Our unemployment rate has dropped from 8.3 percent to 5.4 percent while the national rate remains at 7.8 percent. The national economy is growing at 1.4 percent and the last two months of revised figures show Utah's economy is growing at 3.6 percent half a point above our historical, pre-recession level. And because our economy is creating jobs, the number of people on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families is down by 17.9 percent.
Of course, we still face challenges. Too many people in our state still find themselves out of work. Until every Utahn who wants a job can find a job, our work is not done. I have set the goal to empower the private sector to create 100,000 jobs in 1,000 days and we are on pace to achieve it.
Our economic recovery has been driven by the growth of our local businesses and expanding businesses relocating to our state. Those businesses are counting on our ability to deliver a skilled and educated workforce.
To get there, I have set clear goals. First, 66 percent of all Utah adults must have either a college degree or a skilled trade certificate by the end of the decade. Second, 90 percent of third-, sixth- and eighth-grade students must be proficient in reading and mathematics. And third, 90 percent of high school students must take the ACT exam to ensure they are prepared for post-secondary education.
By achieving these goals, our state will be armed with an educated and skilled workforce necessary to propel our economy.
While two of every three dollars in our state budget are already dedicated to education, our growing economy allowed us to add $200 million to support Utah students this past year.
Innovation is also critical to our education goals. We will continue to embrace technological advances to help our teachers and students. We will increase our focus on establishing basic skills at a young age teaching our children to read so they can read to learn.
And we will call on parents, business leaders and others to be more involved in education at home and as volunteers in the classroom.
Utah is primed to become a global business leader. Our continued dedication to creating an environment for businesses to succeed and our determination to make the nation's youngest population its most-educated, will ensure prosperity for decades to come.
I've never been more optimistic about Utah's future. Join me, and together we will strengthen Utah's position as the best place to live, to work and to raise a family.
Gary R. Herbert is the governor of Utah.