For the past decade, Utah’s economy has enjoyed an incredible run. The state has been the envy of the nation in almost every measure when it comes to economic growth and prosperity. Forbes has named Utah the best state for business six times since 2010. So what can Utah do to ensure its place at the pinnacle of economic success for future decades?
Three projects are currently underway: the Salt Lake City International Airport, Utah’s Inland Port, and the Point of the Mountain. These projects have the potential to drive Utah’s economic success for many decades. The airport project has already begun in earnest, while the others will begin to ramp up over the next couple of years.
From where I sit in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, here’s a look at what these generational projects mean for Utah’s economic future—for your children, grandchildren, and mine.
THE NEW SALT LAKE CITY AIRPORT
The Salt Lake City International Airport is undergoing a self-funded $3.6 billion reconstruction with new, state-of-the-art terminals opening over a four-year period, beginning next year. The new airport will have one large, central terminal, and two linear concourses connected by a passenger tunnel.
This project will meet Salt Lake City’s aviation needs for future decades while creating more than 24,000 jobs and generating more than $1 billion in wages over the construction period. When completed, the end result will be the country’s most modern, technologically advanced airport—a beautiful, gleaming air transportation hub like no other.
The new terminals will include many features to enhance a visitor’s experience, including 23 popular local restaurants that will serve their fare at the same prices charged in the city. There will also be a large lounge where families and groups can comfortably gather to greet passengers, including returning missionaries.
The airport reconstruction is being funded without taxpayer funds. The Airport Board set aside money for many years to help pay for the airport updates and renovation. It’s remarkable and noteworthy that the Salt Lake City International Airport has operated in the black, without debt for many years. Other funding sources include bonds, passenger facility charges, federal grants, rental car facility charges, and airport cash.
Salt Lake City has a unique economic developmental asset: a large amount of undeveloped land adjacent to North America’s 23rd busiest airport. The area, known as Utah’s Inland Port, consists of 16,000 acres, including 11,000 acres of developable land. Not only is the land proximate to the airport, but it’s also located next to two major interstate freeways and a major rail route.
In 2018, the Utah State Legislature passed legislation creating the Inland Port Authority, placing the developable land in the city’s northwest quadrant, under its jurisdiction. The Authority has spent the last year organizing, identifying, and honing the vision for the project.
While the details of the port’s functionality are still being worked out and a public outreach initiative is underway, the overall concept is that an existing business or new endeavor interested in transporting international goods will have easier access to transportation and customs clearance as well as other advantages. Manufacturers who need access to better distribution services have the opportunity to locate in or near the Port.
Another large advantage for the Port is its location inside a Federal Opportunity Zone, meaning many projects inside the Port will be eligible for investment from tax-advantaged Opportunity Funds. It’s conceivable that tens, if not hundreds of millions of private dollars could flow into Salt Lake Valley’s northwest quadrant to help stimulate and facilitate growth in the area.
The 2019 Utah State Legislature passed a bill which potentially allows the creation of inland port satellite locations throughout the state. The satellites will allow businesses to take advantage of the services offered by the Port without requiring the products to be shipped to Salt Lake City.
Utah exports $12 billion in goods annually. The inland port is a strategic economic development opportunity to further differentiate Utah from competitive markets and grow the state’s exports and economy.
POINT OF THE MOUNTAIN
Because houses began to encroach upon it, the Utah State Penitentiary was moved from Sugar House Park to the south end of the Salt Lake Valley in 1951. Six decades later, residential and commercial development once again have encroached on the prison, leaving legislators to move the prison to Salt Lake City’s northwest quadrant.
Located just off of Interstate-15 in Draper, the current 700-acre prison site is in the Silicon Slopes northern corridor. Businesses have sprung up around the prison, making that site one of the most attractive pieces of real estate with the most economic potential in Utah. Legislators reasoned that tax advantages from the development of the 700-acre prison site and surrounding areas would be more beneficial to the state than keeping the prison in Draper.
The legislature created the Point of the Mountain Commission and charged it with conducting a study of the area surrounding the prison site. Envision Utah gathered public feedback to assist with the process. Thousands of Utahns weighed in on the future of the Point of the Mountain via community meetings and online surveys.
After receiving feedback from Envision Utah, the legislature created the Point of the Mountain Authority, the body that will be charged with planning the development and disposing of the land. The Authority is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox and Rep. Lowry Snow. Efforts are underway to hire the Authority’s first executive director, who will manage the day-to-day efforts of the project.
Over the next few years, as the prison is moved to its new location and the Authority determines how best to develop the Draper land, construction will begin on the 700-acre site. Envision Utah’s study pointed out that development of transportation infrastructure will be key to allowing the Point of the Mountain to become the economic hub it’s expected to be.
LET’S GET IT RIGHT
These three megaprojects have the potential to drive Utah’s economy for many decades to come. The fact that all three are happening at about the same time is serendipitous and provides a great sense of responsibility to “get it right” for future generations. This is our one chance to be innovative and plan appropriately for decades to come. It’s a good thing collaboration is Utah’s secret sauce. We’re going to need an extra helping of it.