Utah County’s largest cities rank first nationwide in a number of economic measures, but major business growth is still expected to continue all along the Wasatch Front in the foreseeable future.
The Milken Institute ranked the Provo-Orem area as the No. 1 best performing city in 2017. The criteria for the ranking included the metropolitan area’s economic performance, job creation, wage gains and technology developments.
“By a wide margin, the (Provo-Orem) region outperformed larger metros competing for the top spot thanks to a stellar performance across all nine indicators. The Provo region’s consistently strong economy has numbered among the top three in the U.S. for each of the past five years,” the Milken Institute said.
Dixon Holmes, deputy mayor of economic development in Provo, said the ranking has a lot to do with the influx of young, education-seeking and highly motivated people who are making an impact on the regional and state economy.
“Students who contribute to the economy as students continue to contribute once they are no longer students — they become young working professionals or start their own businesses,” Holmes said. “In fact, many students start businesses as students and finish their education later.”
He said the real secret is the students who stay after graduation and grow small businesses into big businesses.
“Provo and Utah Valley will continue to grow because our growth is three-fourths internal. That in itself will keep things growing. But it’s the ideas that turn into businesses where the job growth comes from. That and seeking new markets and ways to sell products and services,” Holmes said.
Cameron Christensen, Provo’s business development coordinator, said whenever Provo wins an award from a credible source, it tells Provo’s story and the surrounding area and affirms they are heading in the right direction.
“We are happy that we are being recognized for our hard work, and it should be understood that when the surrounding area does well, it all helps the region as a whole,” Christensen said. “Earning this great title means that businesses are looking at this area to understand if this would be a good fit for their company. Examples like Qualtrics, Adobe, Chatbooks, Ancestry and smaller start-ups are finding that we have a great workforce here and business-friendly communities.”
Christensen said within a 50-mile radius, companies have access to 100,000 students, and a company’s number one concern is typically workforce.
The ranking also affirms Brigham Young University, Utah Valley University and the University of Utah are giving their students a quality education. These institutions and their leadership are paving the way for future development within the area. This symbiotic relationship is the lifeblood of business, according to Christensen.
“Businesses want an educated and qualified workforce, and the Provo-Orem area is providing that for them, along with several other factors,” Christensen said.
Over the next five years, Christensen said he expects Provo will continue growing both in residential population and in the number of businesses.
“It is our intent to continue this growth in a strategic and smart way in order to effectively have Provo and the surrounding area be a hotbed for jobs and business development,” Christensen said. “We anticipate that with the business announcements already made — and the many projects in the pipeline — we are well on our way to a prosperous five years, but no one can predict the future.”
Utah Business online editor Lisa Christensen recently did a podcast interview with Robert Spendlove, senior vice-president and economic policy officer at Zions Bank.
Christensen asked Spendlove if there is anything the state needs to worry about more or less than the rest of the nation in the coming year.
“You know, Utah is such a strong market right now,” Spendlove said. “We are No. 1 in the country for employment growth. We are No. 3 in the country for population growth. So our biggest struggle is just dealing with all of the growth. It’s a good problem to have.”
Spendlove said this growth demands keeping up with infrastructure needs — focusing on building roads, water systems, electrical systems and cell networks — to maintain that growth.
Spendlove said the state also needs to look at education and the keep preparing children for the future. He said one crisis Utah faces is a labor shortage.
“Labor shortages, if they get too big, can actually constrain overall economic growth. An employer may want to grow by 10 employees but they can’t find 10 people to fill those jobs. That may actually slow down their growth plans. And so that’s a struggle that we’re going to have,” Spendlove said. “A way that we deal with that is by addressing education. We’ve got to do a better job of educating students and preparing them for the needs of the workforce. We’ve got to have better workforce alignment and give children the tools that they need to succeed.”
Ryan Clark, Orem’s economic development division manager, said the national ranking for the Provo-Orem area is good for the small businesses in these cities.
“It shows how well the economy is growing in that area and that large and small businesses will benefit from it,” Clark said.
Clark said, as a result, larger businesses will be more interested in moving to the Orem-Provo area.
“It provides the publicity to whoever is ranked No. 1 and helps us get on the radar when top businesses think of expansion,” Clark said.