One unique pleasure of my job is to hit the road, to visit the great people and places of Utah. Whether they're visits to school districts or conventions, speaking engagements at civic clubs or commencements, meet-and-greets at the local library, bill signing ceremonies, Lincoln Day dinners, town hall or meetings in a home, I thoroughly enjoy meeting and speaking with Utahns in all corners of our state. It gives me the chance to hear their concerns and aspirations and, in essence, to check the pulse of Utah.
As I travel the state, some topics bubble up repeatedly. Number one is jobs and the economy. Even though Utah’s current employment situation (5.7% unemployment) is the envy of most states, many Utahns know of a loved one, friend, or colleague out of work or who is underemployed. The Utahns I meet know that our state needs a business-friendly climate to retain existing business and attract new companies that will create quality, high-paying jobs. They want to see their local and state government take proactive steps to create this favorable business climate.
Virtually everywhere I go Utahns tell me that improving our education system is critical. They recognize Utah faces some unique demographic challenges. For instance, they intuitively can sense that in light of the fact that one-third of our residents are under the age of 18 and one out of every ten citizens is under the age of five, Utah has the youngest population in the nation. Despite these challenges, Utahns still want and believe their children deserve to receive a world-class education. And they understand that the key to a flourishing economy is well-educated workers.
Utahns are also frustrated with rising gas prices. They know that prices are likely to rise even further as we enter the summer months and want to know what can be done to ensure reliable and affordable energy. And a great majority of people are concerned about Utah not having appropriate access or control over Utah’s land.
A recent survey released by the Utah Foundation confirms that what I’m hearing on the road is reflective of general public opinion in Utah. The 2012 Utah Priorities Survey found that jobs and economy, education, and energy issues are the three highest priorities for Utahns today. In addition, the survey found that Utahns are also greatly concerned about health care costs, taxes, government spending, higher education, an overreaching federal government and spiraling debt, air pollution, and states’ rights.
While the issues identified in my personal experience and the Utah Foundation survey correspond quite closely, there is one additional theme I hear as I travel the state. As I speak with people across the state I get the sense that more and more Utahns are feeling more and more confident about Utah’s future. They feel that Utah has turned a corner, and that despite the difficult and challenging economic slump the nation experienced over the past four years, they feel Utah is on the right track.
Utah is growing. Utah is gaining jobs. Utah has a burgeoning workforce. Utah is fiscally sound. Utah is leading the nation in many, many areas. Governor Herbert often says that he has never been more optimistic about Utah's future as he is now...and Utahns generally agree.