Posted // 2013-03-14 -
It’s time to move Utah’s prison.
Gov. Gary Herbert was 100% right when he called on lawmakers to move the prison from the Point of the Mountain to make way for a high-tech corridor between southern Salt Lake County and northern Utah County.
It makes sense, since this area is rapidly becoming a magnet for high-tech business. We already have Adobe’s gorgeous new building just south of Point of the Mountain. Now is the time to add to that.
Critics of moving the prison are clutching their pearls over the prospect that someone will make money off of the deal. As long as the process is open and fair, there shouldn’t be any worry about developers getting rich at the expense of the state. I’m hoping Utah learned its lesson from the I-15 reconstruction debacle. We don’t need another under-the-table payout to a losing bidder.
But, the controversy over who will or won’t profit from moving the prison muddies the water. This requires bigger-picture thinking. Simply put, Utah cannot wait any longer to move the prison.
If the state has designs of being a player in the high-tech-job universe, this has to happen, and the process needs to start now.
High-tech jobs have become the holy grail. They’re well paying. They bring younger workers. They foster more innovation, which brings more high-paying jobs. Under the right circumstances, high-tech development could become a perpetual-motion machine for Utah’s economy. But, like the holy grail, these jobs won’t come easily to Utah.
Right now, companies aren’t falling all over themselves to come here, and other states are seriously stepping up their games to get into the fray. The competition is already fierce and could become a sort of economic bloodsport.
For example, Colorado lawmakers are busy creating a $100-million-dollar venture-capital fund run by the state to foster technology start-ups. That’s 100 million reasons why Utah needs to take this step sooner rather than later.
It’s not enough to offer a great lifestyle and good skiing. Utah needs to use the siren call of money and incentives to get these businesses on board. Tax incentives help, but they won’t be enough.
Utah needs to do something bold. Moving the prison to create an attractive place for these businesses and their workers to settle could be just the ticket.
Sure there are other things working against Utah in the race to land these businesses. Our abysmal education funding is a major strike against us, and younger tech workers tend to skew left politically. But, those concerns could be minimized a bit if the state is able to offer a spectacular counterweight. Using the land the prison sits on makes a ton of sense.
House Speaker Becky Lockhart wants lawmakers to wait on taking action toward moving the prison. She says the process is moving too fast and wants more thought put into making the move. A noble sentiment, but this is the wrong approach because other states are already trolling the high-tech waters, hoping to snag the next Google or Facebook, while Utah officials are arguing about what kind of bait to use. When it comes to technology, speed kills.
While I don’t know Lockhart’s motivation for stalling the prison move, it does make some sense when you consider that she is reportedly eyeing a challenge to Herbert in 2016. If the prison move gets underway sooner rather than later, it could be a huge feather in Herbert’s cap if he decides to run for another term. Why wouldn’t Lockhart want to deny him another victory when it comes to Utah’s economy? Hopefully, short-term political gain at the expense of possible long-term economic benefit isn’t the catalyst behind the delay.
It’s no secret that the City Creek construction was a major factor in keeping Utah mostly insulated from the effects of the Great Recession. It kept money rolling through the economy to mitigate any slowdown. A half-billio- dollar project near two major population centers would be another firewall for Utah if the U.S. economy backslides.
It’s estimated that moving the prison and the subsequent development could bring as many as 40,000 jobs to the state and $20 billion in tax revenue. Yes, those are estimates, but even half that number should be enough to open the throttle on this project.
Utah has a choice. Do we sit on the sidelines while other cities and states go full-bore toward a high-tech future? Or, do we take a logical step and create our own version of Silicon Valley.
This post originally appeared at UtahPolicy.com.
Bryan Schott is Managing Editor of UtahPolicy.com and UtahPulse.com. He has covered Utah politics for 15 years. He also blogs at SchottHappens.com.