Salt Lake City: A Quest for Enduring, Long-term Prosperity

Sep 24, 2013

This post is excerpted from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation's Enterprising Cities report. The report highlights seven cities with policies and practices that will help strengthen our free enterprise system. 

Salt Lake City is home to a well-educated, multilingual workforce, spectacular natural amenities, reasonable taxes, and a flexible regulatory environment. These key fundamental strengths have made it a hotspot for software, data processing and Internet publishing, financial services, and tech-based sectors relying on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. 

Hailed as the "Crossroads of the West,” the city—along with the state of Utah—finds itself at the top of many national economic growth and development rankings. But nobody in the region seems to be satisfied with resting on these accolades. Instead, leaders there hold a steadfast focus on the future and the investments and partnerships required to ensure a more competitive tomorrow and enduring prosperity for the Salt Lake region.

Prosperity 2020

The Salt Lake Chamber is partnering with some 20 chambers of commerce and business associations from throughout Utah in a movement called Prosperity 2020. The goal is to strengthen the economy by improving education and, thereby, cultivating and developing a new generation of well-educated and highly skilled workers.

Prosperity 2020 is the largest group of business leaders ever organized to improve educational outcomes in Utah. Its intention is to increase investment, innovation, and accountability to build the strongest economy in the nation with the best-educated workforce.  As such, it is a national model for effective business advocacy in education. 

The project’s aim is to improve Utah’s economy by reaching several ambitious goals:

66%        66% of Utah adults will have postsecondary certificates or degrees. Currently, 43% meet this goal.

90%        90% of third, sixth, and eighth graders will be proficient in reading and mathematics. Currently, approximately 80% meet this goal.

STEM Top 10      The Greater Salt Lake Area will rank in the top 10 metropolitan areas for science and technology jobs and businesses. Currently, it ranks in the top 30.

These goals have been officially adopted by Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert and the Utah legislature, and have strong support from public and higher education leaders.

Recent growth trends are strong in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) jobs. The region’s STEM employment is one of the fastest growing of the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. Its relative concentration of these jobs is 16% higher than the national norm, but increasing faster than most metropolitan areas.

Salt Lake City Metropolitan STEM Employment


Long-term growth (2001–2012)



Mid-term growth (2005–2012)



Short-term growth (2010–2012)



Concentration compared to nation, 2012



Change in concentration (2001–2012)



The Prosperity 2020 movement includes a Business Promise, which brings together business and government leaders to mobilize business, education, and community partners to improve educational achievement, workforce literacy, and access to governmental and social service opportunities. It intends to deploy 20,200 volunteers as tutors and mentors by 2020 to help students achieve success. A web portal provides information about school partnerships and volunteer efforts all over the state.

The region has made several strategic investments toward the 66% goal for postsecondary certificates or degrees:

Higher Education. A $20 million investment in capacity at Utah’s institutions of higher learning for high-growth, high-wage degrees (STEM and health professions). This investment is to be matched by $20 million in institutional funding and innovations for more online courses, more concurrent enrollment, and increased use of instructional technologies and other improvements.

Technical Education. A $9.75 million investment in increased capacity at the Utah College of Applied Technology campuses for a year-one commitment to achieve 153,000 more certificates by 2020.

Public Education. A $43.6 million investment in computer adaptive testing; early intervention and programs for children at risk; ACT testing for every high school student; and promising STEM priorities, such as an educational resource center, expansion and replication of top science and math schools, and other capacity-building improvements. 

The Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Technology Council are also vigorously advocating for the development and deployment of rigorous curricula and innovative teaching methods that will educate the next generation of skilled technology professionals for the state’s high-tech, clean-tech, and life science industries, which are the growth engines of the economy.  Prosperity 2020 will complement and build on Utah’s successful USTAR initiative to boost the state’s research capacity and technology commercialization.

Fostering Livability and Local Business

The city’s Center for Local Business supports sustainable economic development in Salt Lake City’s small-business community.  The Center takes the focus of economic development to a local scale, concentrating on building community partnerships, connecting businesses to resources, and encouraging the growth of all types of local capital: including social, human, environmental, and physical capitals, in addition to financial capital.

A Neighborhood Business District Grant Program provides matching funds of up to $2,000 to nonprofit neighborhood business district organizations that have a predominant concentration of local businesses. The funding may be used for promotion and events, marketing and branding, and physical beautification projects. 

Hailed as the "Crossroads of the West,” the city—along with the state of Utah—finds itself at the top of many national economic growth and development rankings.

Economic growth and sustainability at the neighborhood level is a key element of second-term Mayor Ralph Becker’s six-point “livability initiative” designed to bolster Salt Lake City as a regional center for business, science, education, and the arts. According to Mayor Becker, the livability initiative is a step toward a new kind of urbanism that embraces accessibility, sustainability, and sophistication. The initiative uses the city's business-assistance programs to create small-business hubs, such as business districts and neighborhood commercial centers. Zoning modifications are also implemented to enable more small-commercial clusters near neighborhoods.

The six major points of the livability initiative include

  • The Resilient Economy: bolstering neighborhood business districts
  • Salt Lake City in Motion: bikeways, connected trails, and streetcars
  • A Wise Energy Future and Quality Environment: net-zero buildings and watershed protection in the Wasatch
  • Innovation and Celebration of Education: partnerships for after-school programs and early-childhood literacy
  • A Commitment to Equality and Opportunity: hate-crimes legislation and gay-rights protections
  • Enhancing the Artistic and Cultural Life: Broadway playhouse to art space in vacant storefronts

The unifying theme of livability was recently formalized with the release of Sustainable Salt Lake—Plan 2015, which will serve as a roadmap for achieving and tracking metrics related to the six goals. The City is also conducting an extensive public input process to develop a city-wide vision document to help guide the city into the future. Plan Salt Lake will bring together all of the existing citywide policies and help the residents, business owners, visitors, and city decision makers make choices today that impact tomorrow.

The online Open City Hall, enabling even greater citizen participation, is an increasingly important facet of livability at the local level. Open City Hall is a digital access point for getting the public engaged in every planning and zoning meeting, city council meeting, public open house, workshop, and public hearing. Salt Lake City has gone high tech with its forums, using Open City Hall as a means of posting discussions on a broad range of city issues. On Speak Out SLC, a page where residents can post their own ideas on what needs to be improved in the city, users can “like” the good ideas and city planners can see what issues residents are most passionate about.

Boosting Entrepreneurs

The Entrepreneur’s Circle is Utah’s largest, most inclusive, and most active networking group for entrepreneurs and business owners. Touted as having an “urban downtown Salt Lake meets Park City” spirit, the Entrepreneur’s Circle is a networking group for serious entrepreneurs and professionals with a professional, accountable culture.

The Entrepreneur’s Circle convenes numerous events each year including business networking breakfasts, lunches, and evening events; seminars; and workshops. It also offers mentoring for entrepreneurs, early to mid-stage companies, and professionals.  The Circle is a partner with many other large networking and business groups throughout the state, so some events are held outside of Salt Lake or Park City.  Approximately 40% of the participants are women and the Entrepreneur’s Circle intentionally highlights and celebrates women entrepreneurs.

Promoting entrepreneurship among women is a long-time focus of the Salt Lake Chamber. The Women’s Business Center provides entrepreneurs, young professionals, and small business owners with the skills, knowledge, tools, and support necessary to increase their success and positively impact the economy. The Women’s Business Center, founded 16 years ago, is a public-private partnership between the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Women’s Business Ownership and the Salt Lake Chamber.

The Women’s Business Center collaborates with the Women’s Business Institute (WBI) of Salt Lake Community College to co-sponsor the Women’s Network for Entrepreneurial Training, a mentoring program that helps female business owners.  Founded in 2007, the WBI offers women entrepreneurs many resources to help them get started or improve their small businesses. The WBI offers one-on-one counseling, business development classes and workshops, market research, mentoring, and networking, and are often no-cost or low-cost to the client.

The Women Tech Council provides mentoring, visibility, and networking for women. The community is built for women who currently work for technology companies, and for those who may work in technology roles in other market sectors.

Technology entrepreneurs in Salt Lake City can also get a boost from SLC Startups, a networking group for anyone whose passion is innovation, software, technology, and start-ups. It is a group for tech entrepreneurs, web and software developers, engineers, innovators, business folks, investors, geeks, and nerds to get to know one another and to support the development of new start-ups in Salt Lake City.

Looking to the Future on the Silicon Slopes

The success of Salt Lake City is based on its fundamental qualities and shared understanding that success in the future will require a sound business climate and a highly educated workforce. The city is notable for its recognition that over the long run a highly educated workforce is perhaps the greatest asset a local business community could ask for. The region’s Prosperity 2020 project is intentionally designed to leverage this critical connection between business, education, and a region’s future.

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Sat Lake City, UT: An Enterprising City

by uschamber.






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