This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Utah has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation. Blessed with hard-working people and cheap energy, the state is attracting new companies as it grows existing ones. We are indeed the envy of many states.
But a new report from the Utah Foundation sees a crack in that armor, and it's one that threatens to keep us from sustained prosperity.
Turning the state's pioneer slogan on its head, the report is titled "Is This the Place?" and it is a revealing look at what Utah employers think about Utah workers. Foundation researchers surveyed 151 of them on the business and labor environment here.
The good news is that we work hard. When compared to their workers in other states, 60 percent of the employers said their Utah workers were more industrious, while only 6 percent said they were less so.
The bad news? We're not skilled enough. Almost three-fourths (71 percent) of the employers say they struggle to find enough skilled workers in Utah. In a world where even manufacturing jobs are high-tech, software-driven positions, this is not minor.
We can outwork the others, but can we outthink them?
By at least one measure of thinkers, Utah is not a national leader. Using census data, the Martin Prosperity Institute looked at which large U.S. metro areas have the highest percentage of people with graduate degrees in various disciplines, including engineering, computer science/math and business degrees. San Jose and Boston show up on multiple top 10 lists, of course, but so does Denver and Atlanta. Salt Lake City is right at the national average for graduate degrees and only cracked one list, 10th place for the percentage of visual arts and theater degrees. (Take a bow, thespians.)
The Utah Foundation points out that it may be the employers themselves who need to dig a little deeper. A recent Department of Workforce Services report found employers in Utah offer less money for their skilled positions than the same positions get in other states. In other words, if we attract business here with our low wages, we have to accept that our most skilled workers can make more money elsewhere.
The silver lining is that most of the employers seem to get the bigger picture that a more educated workforce takes investment. The Utah Foundation report found that only 3 percent of respondents said that Utah's corporate taxes were a deterrent, and only one of the 151 said corporate taxes were the greatest factor impeding the business.
So if there is one takeaway, it is the opposite of what many legislators on Capitol Hill say. Cutting taxes on job-creating businesses won't grow the economy. Instead, hanging on to that tax money, and perhaps adding a little bit more, will put more people through school and make us a little more like San Jose and Boston.
Just ask the employers.