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Utah's economic development engine could get an overhaul

Provo City
Posted at 4:13 PM, Feb 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-12 19:52:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY  — A massive new bill introduced in the Utah State Legislature would overhaul economic development plans for the state.

House Bill 348, sponsored by Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, and Senate Majority Whip Ann Millner, R-Ogden, institutes some big changes in how Utah's economic development agencies work. It would set up a commission of political leaders and industry stakeholders to focus on "economic opportunity."

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"The secret’s out. Utah’s been discovered and one of the big challenges we face is growth," Rep. Hawkes said in an interview Friday with FOX 13.

The bill would re-brand the Governor's Office of Economic Development (the name "Go Utah" was thrown out in a hearing Friday), re-assess how Utah handles tax incentives to lure companies, and focus on things like infrastructure growth, quality of life and expanding ethnic and rural businesses.

"Ten years ago it was jobs, jobs, jobs," Rep. Hawkes said. "If we could get a company to locate on the Wasatch Front, we were thrilled. Now it’s different. We're a victim of our own success. Now our challenge is growth. Affordable housing is a problem. Communities have been left behind, our ethnic, multicultural communities, rural communities haven’t seen that growth."

The bill, which is over 300 pages and was made public on Thursday, makes a number of changes. Some telecom companies had questions, specifically about incentives for rural broadband access. But overall, the House Economic Development Committee was supportive of it, voting unanimously to pass HB348 out favorably to the full House for a vote.

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Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Holladay, said she liked the focus on "economic opportunity" for individuals.

"They think of economic development as big business. You say 'Silicon Slopes' and not everyone’s part of that," she said Friday.

Dan Hemmert, the newly appointed director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, spoke in support of it.

"We’re pretty excited. If I didn’t make this clear, we’re speaking in favor of this bill," he told the committee. "We’re pretty excited about what we think we can do about setting us up for the next 10 years."

The bill also does review incentives that Utah hands out to lure companies to the state. It's been a longstanding gripe of some lawmakers on Capitol Hill, when they see companies request tens of millions in tax perks.

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"I don’t think we’re getting rid of those, but we’re tweaking them. We’re looking at a different set of standards when we give an incentive to come here," Rep. Hawkes said.

Other bills introduced on Capitol Hill look to advance Utah's economic plans. Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, has introduced a proposed compact with other states to stop trying to pit them against each other with incentives. Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, has introduced a bill to offer bigger incentives for companies to move to rural Utah.