107 regional business leaders and elected officials traveled to the Beehive State to learn best practices from Salt Lake City leaders. Topics on the Austin Chamber's 18th Intercity Trip included workforce development, education, natural resources, affordability, housing density, mobility, and technology and innovation. Interestingly, we heard speaker after speaker strongly emphasize that their successes were a direct result of strong regional collaboration.
We were thrilled to have leaders from all over Salt Lake City join us to share their thoughts on a variety of topics throughout our three days in the area. We heard from non-profits, universities, governments, chambers of commerce, and economic development corporations about how they are working to make Salt Lake City a better place to work and live.
Mid-Morning Session: Economic Development - Why Salt Lake?
Economic Development leaders from Utah shared their perspectives on what makes Utah and Salt Lake City a great place for business. The themes were geography and proximity to major transportation and rail corridors and relatively low cost of living compared to other cities in the West. Also, access to the outdoors and a high quality of life. The state offices of economic development play a key role in helping support cities across the state. The state has identified six industry sectors that present promising opportunities for economic development: aerospace/defense, fife science, financial services, IT and software, energy, and outdoor Products.
Welcome Lunch: Downtown Development
The pandemic was particularly devastating for businesses in downtown Salt Lake City. With reduced car traffic it presented an opportunity to pilot an open streets initiative. For four weeks in 2020 the main street in downtown was closed to vehicle traffic. Subsequently, the pilot was expanded for 15 weeks (Memorial Day – Labor Day) in 2021 and 2022. Open Streets was so successful that there is a strong commitment to continuing the programming.
Fun Fact: downtown Salt Lake City is home to the largest farmers' market in the country.
Fun fact: Downtown leaders in SLC traveled to Austin a decade ago to learn how Austin worked with mobile food vendors to create food courts and brought some of our great ideas back to SLC.
Mid-Afternoon Session: Housing & Density
Similar to Austin, the cost of housing is rising rapidly in Salt Lake City. Delegates heard a local perspective on barriers and opportunities to affordable housing in SLC. While SLC and AUS differ in population, the two regions are similar in size. The conversation touched on the great need for increased housing supply and more density while implementing anti-displacement measures and keeping an eye on neighborhood preservation. The session offered an opportunity to hear the strategies they are employing and evaluate if they could be used in Central Texas.
The mayor of Salt Lake City and the Deputy Mayor Salt Lake County joined us over breakfast for a panel moderated by our own Mayor Steve Adler. They shared some of their most pressing challenges, which included homelessness, land use, pollution, and preserving natural resources. The emphasis from both elected leaders was on how they are working regionally and with the state government to address the key issues in the capital city of Utah.
Mid-Morning Session: Regionalism - Planning for a Growing Region
Utah has been one of the fastest growing states over the last decade and that has presented the Salt Lake City region with unique challenges. We did a deep dive into how they are planning regionally for growth and the future of their transportation network. We welcomed a speaker from Envision Utah, a nonprofit that brings business, government, and community leaders together to ensure they are all taking a holistic, balanced approach to the future. The focus on regionalism and the new approach to it made this one of our delegation's favorite sessions.
Lunch Session: Workforce & Talent
Austin has nearly 100,000 open jobs as of last month and with the growth in new sectors over the last two years, workforce development is a key issue for the Austin Chamber. Over lunch, we were joined by leaders from Salt Lake City Community College and non-profits who are working to create programs to ensure Salt Lake City has a workforce that meets the needs of its business community. Speakers during this session emphasized regional collaboration is the most critical component of their workforce development pipeline.
Mid Afternoon Session: Technology & Innovation
This session featured speakers who are involved in the creation of an innovation district in Utah. This includes the University of Utah, non-profits, and elected officials working together to develop an area into the work and live space of the future. They are working to attract employers and other investments to a region in hopes of creating a centerpiece of Utah's economic development work. As with a lot of the panels on this trip, the different speakers focused on the importance of working together with other agencies to solve big challenges.
Late Afternoon Session: Childcare, Mental Health
We were joined by the CEO and President of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce to share how they create more inclusive and healthy workplaces. Through its foundation, the Salt Lake City Chamber partners with its business community to support workers with mental health, childcare, and other family-friendly resources to ensure that SLC can have an inclusive workforce. The key takeaway from this session was that Utah is a positive, tempered culture, and very committed to its future.
Over dinner at the Red Butte Garden, our delegation heard from a member of the Governor of Utah's staff about how they work to create economic development opportunities statewide and in Salt Lake City. Once again, the importance of partnership with local and regional leaders to ensure that all levels of government are doing everything they can to grow Utah's economy.
The dinner also provided a great opportunity for delegates from Austin to network with one another in a beautiful space.
Breakfast Session: State and Local Partnerships
The morning kicked off with a presentation from the Governor’s office regarding the impact of climate change and drought on water shortages and efforts underway to address what has become what they described as “an acute environmental and public health crisis in Utah.” The focus of so many of the speakers from Salt Lake City and around the state, including this session, focused on how important it is to work across agencies to solve the problems they are facing.
Mid-Morning Session: Airport Development
The Director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports shared how the department spent years assessing the best approach to a flexible design that meets operational needs, user convenience and sustainability. When they landed on their current plan, they made sure they factored in a long-range plan to implement the new facilities. The first phase opened in September of 2020. The next portion opened in October of 2020. The second phase is expected to be completed in 2024. Through questions and answers with our group, we heard how they focused on creating a facility with their community in mind. This will help as we begin the process of expanding our airport.
Because of rapid growth, Salt Lake City International Airport was in a very similar position to Austin Bergstrom International Airport. Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) served more than 26 million passengers a year in facilities constructed 60 years ago to handle half as many travelers. Security needs are vastly different from when the airport was originally constructed and buildings no longer meet earthquake safety standards. This led them to begin an ambitious construction project to chart a new course with a new airport. SLC is now a beautiful and functional hub airport with many flights arriving and departing around the same time. Our delegates enjoyed a private tour of the airport to see how they are meeting the unique needs of their community and making their new airport work for the future.