What New York can learn from Utah’s economy

This post is a follow up to, “Government innovation requires shift to value creation,” which called for rigorous economic analysis in favor of political rhetoric to increase accountability, transparency and effectiveness. 

A vision for a stronger economy 

Imagine New York State with the following improvements to its economic outlook:

  • 17 percent decrease to the poverty rate
  • 45 percent lower unemployment rate

To understand a state economy with such benchmarks, look no further than Utah. Its success offers a proven alternative to New York State’s regional-based model, which increases bureaucracy and splinters leadership as well as resources.

Earlier this year, The New Yorker profiled Utah’s dynamic economic engine, which has powered an impressive attraction of top-tier digitally-centered businesses such as Adobe and eBay.

Transformation requires unity

Analysts at Brookings Institution cite Utah’s emphasis on executing a core set of economic initiatives without much fanfare. These include policy, infrastructure, and collaboration between both private and public entities.

New York State, partially to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s credit, is making similar efforts. Cuomo’s “Opportunity Agenda” includes significant tax breaks to small business and large investments in transit-related assets. The Agenda’s lengthy list of proposals, however, lacks one important similarity to Utah–“a tightly knit” ecosystem of private and public entities that includes a light-rail system connecting each of its major cities. (Remember high-speed rail?)

While Cuomo defends the recently criticized Regional Economic Development Councils, Utah’s model provides a stark contrast to the Empire State’s competition-led approach.

In 2010, Utah Governor Gary Herbert unveiled a four-point plan outlining a vision for the state’s economy:

  • Strengthen and grow existing Utah businesses, both urban and rural
  • Increase innovation, entrepreneurship & investment
  • Increase national and international business
  • Prioritize education to develop the workforce of the future

Cuomo’s “new” New York highlights efforts similar to Utah, yet its length and lack of a unifying vision makes it read more like a defense of his administration than a strategic plan to put New York State’s best assets to work.  

By comparison, Utah’s Gov. Herbert proudly refers to constituents as “Team Utah” and unites all efforts around a central vision: “Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premier global business destination.”

How value enables broader benefits  

Herbert is not without his critics. LGBT advocates voice concern over his personal views on marriage equality, a key issue that solidified Cuomo’s progressive agenda. Despite opposition to gay marriage, Herbert recently signed an anti-discrimination bill into law that protects the LGBT community from prejudice related to employment and housing. Utah’s legislation is likely a reflection of Herbert’s business-centric philosophy rather than an evolution of his personal beliefs. 

Data compiled by the Center for American Progress suggest how more diverse populations contribute to stronger economic performance. With companies continuing to enter Utah from more progressive centers such as San Francisco, Herbert’s policy decisions are no surprise as the state continues its mission to become a global business destination. 

The ability for economic performance to influence such policy is an important measure of government’s ability to generate lasting value.

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