This is an archived article that was published on in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Promising to find solutions to Utah's biggest problems — in education, employment, health care and transportation — Utah's political elite Wednesday hailed the launch of a new University of Utah public-policy institute funded by commercial developer Kem Gardner.

"Why would my humble name be associated with this very prestigious policy institute? It's a very simple answer. … My children and my wife asked me and their argument was compelling," said Gardner, explaining he saw value in uniting the talented people he had met in 40 years of policy discussions.

"I believe firmly this policy institute could make life better for our state and for our children," Gardner said.

Former Republican presidential candidate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said the Kem C. Gardner Public Policy Institute will ensure the contribution of Kem and Carolyn Gardner continues years after they are gone.

"There's some things we need to learn here in Utah: to help get a better handle on the inversions and pollution and what to do about the fact it seems to be getting warmer every year," Romney said.

Education — both in grade schools and at the university level — also needs to be an area of focus for the state, he said.

Romney and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt have agreed to gather top policy minds from around the country beginning next year for an occasional series of symposia.

In addition, the institute will draw staff from the U.'s Bureau of Economic and Business Research and the Center for Public Policy and Administration.

Natalie Gochnour, who will serve as director of the institute, laid out a vision for the work it plans to do, beginning with a project focused on three major issues in the 2016 election: education, infrastructure investment and tax policy. The institute will compile data and prepare policy papers to help inform candidates and voters, she said.

Beyond that, Gochnour said, the institute plans to conduct public-opinion research, delve into the role of the defense industry in the state, analyze Utah's housing and real estate market, and study Utah's changing demographics and what they means for areas like education and employment.

The institute will be housed in the historic Wall Mansion in downtown Salt Lake City, which was gifted to the university by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is undergoing a $9 million renovation. Once it's fully operating next spring, the institute will have about 30 scholars working at the location, Gochnour said.

Gail Miller, owner of the Larry Miller Group of companies, and Scott Anderson, president of Zions Bank, will serve as co-chairs of the institute. Miller said it will pay immediate dividends to the state and bring together a group of new young leaders.

"There are tremendous needs here. I see a growing homeless population, and they need our love and attention and solutions. I see many children in school settings who struggle because they don't have the needs met they need to succeed," Miller said.

She said she sees people struggling to find work and pay for health care, and she sees some elected officials unwilling to work toward compromises and solutions.

"I know people of goodwill and proper training can do amazing things," she said. "We need this trusted think tank and this policy institute to help guide the way. I know when you give Utah people good data and accurate information, they do the right thing."

Twitter: @RobertGehrke