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Governor Huntsman: As Utah recovers, the worst thing it can do is think small

By Jon Huntsman
Published by the Deseret News

May 24th, 2020

Utah unemployment quadrupled over the past two months as the latest jobs report shows 1 in 10 Utahns are out of work. People are beginning to realize just how much damage the government shutdown of our economy has done. The road ahead is challenging and Utah needs a bold vision that aims to do more than just get us “back to normal.”

The worst thing we can do is think small.

By seizing opportunities in three emerging economic sectors, we can double our economy, create hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs and develop products and technologies that will improve the lives of people across our state while fortifying our economy against future threats.

Biotechnology

Utah is positioned to become a global leader in the biotechnology sector. Our universities lead the nation in converting their research and technology into businesses and products, but there is so much more we can do. Positioned correctly, Utah can:

  • Discover breakthroughs in conquering disease and extending life. Research and innovation in this industry will be a transformational part of our future. We want those discoveries to happen here.
  • Initiate a public-private national laboratory to focus on education, manufacturing, agriculture and advance all biotech industries.
  • Establish a self-generating fund dedicated to biotech and bioscience that is designed to produce returns on investment in technology developed at universities.

By building the biotech industry, we can strengthen our economy while playing an essential role in preventing future pandemics.

Defense technology

The talent flowing in and out of Utah’s military installations is a significantly underutilized resource. Utah is primed to lead in developing defense technology including cybersecurity, quantum computing, neuro-synthetic biology, artificial intelligence, microsatellites and other next-generation warfare. This initiative will focus on:

  • Funding: Attracting and taking full advantage of investments from the federal government and private sector in defense technology could add hundreds of billions of dollars to Utah’s economy.
  • Business creation: Establishes an easily navigable regulatory environment that would entice defense technology companies to start in Utah. Jobs in this sector pay on average 34.8% more than nondefense industry jobs.
  • Talent pipeline: The defense technology industry struggles to find workers with specialized skills who can obtain high-level security clearances and speak foreign languages. Utah fits the bill. Aligning the ecosystems of Hill Air Force Base, Utah’s world-class universities and our substantial talent pool with the burgeoning defense industry will result in thousands of high-paying jobs and unprecedented growth.

This initiative will require a thoughtful strategy and skilled diplomacy to bring together the federal government and private industry. Utah must play a more substantive role in this industry to benefit the areas near our key military installations and the entire state.

Financial technology

Capital is the lifeblood of any economy — and it’s a coward. We should seek to make Utah the ultimate safe-haven destination for this sensitive industry. As our economy has been disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, banks are tightening lending standards and investment capital is looking for a secure place to land.

Utah should create an ecosystem of investors, financial institutions, professional services firms, policymakers and technological innovators committed to making Utah a global leader. Here’s how we get started:

  • Through the establishment of the Utah Financial Innovation Network, we will create a single point of access to promote talent development, business opportunity and investment capital.
  • Work with investors and financial institutions to create financial technology innovation programs that will cultivate a thriving ecosystem for industries primed for disruption including insurance, accounting services and credit products.
  • There is no industry more global in nature than finance. Our world-class universities and leading business programs, combined with our natural curiosity of the world, give us a human capital advantage.

In the coming years, Utah can create new businesses and products while attracting investment looking for the best place to grow. What’s in it for Utahns? More than doubling our state’s GDP from $180 billion to $500 billion, higher-paying jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. Most importantly, our children and grandchildren will be able to build successful careers and fulfilling lives right here at home, instead of having to look for opportunities elsewhere.

Our state’s potential is unlimited. Utah has long been known as the Crossroads of the West — our goal should be to become the Crossroads of the World. Let’s get to work.