Each year, Metro Leadership Visit provides a delegation of local leaders in the public, private and non-profit sectors the opportunity to travel to other communities to garner insight on best practices and program ideas that could be used in our region.
Intro to Salt Lake City
Our first full day exploring Salt Lake City kicked off with remarks from Derek Miller, President & CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. Derek set the stage for the trip with an overview of the city.
We all quickly realized that we have one thing in common… hospitality. The welcome we received from Derek (and every other Utahan today) was genuine and warm.
Another thing we share with Salt Lake is growth. Just like at home, growth brings a mix of opportunities and challenges. One opportunity is state fiscal health with tax climate stability. For 20+ years, Utah has consistently kept a low, flat business and personal income tax rate that has supported significant economic development.
Among the challenges, talent demand, infrastructure strain and housing attainability are the most pressing. Those sound familiar, right?
At the next session of the morning, we dove into housing. As a state, Utah is growing a bit faster than South Carolina. As regions, the Salt Lake metro and Charleston metro are neck and neck in their growth rate. And like us, their housing supply has not to kept up with demand, resulting in a rapid escalation in home costs.
I think it is important to note that we are not alone in our housing crisis, it was echoed in every conversation we had today. Our cause is very similar, and just like us, they haven’t yet figured out the answer.
Dan Lofgren, President & CEO of Cowboy Partners, discussed unintended consequences of housing policies. Some solutions to provide more affordable housing opportunities can inadvertently inflate the rest of the housing market.
He also discussed the problem of expectations on housing prices. Consumers expect it all… generous square footage, granite countertops and extra bathrooms… but at an affordable price. Cost of materials, labor and land make those expectations and affordability incompatible.
After our housing discussion, we headed to the University of Utah’s campus to tour Lassonde Studios and we were wowed! This bustling, interdisciplinary entrepreneur center is a place for students to innovate and create. A place where entrepreneurial ideas come alive. A resource center for students campus-wide. But not only that, it is a place for students to live. The facility houses 400 students who enjoy constant immersion in an entrepreneurial environment.
The remainder of the afternoon was focused on transit.
With a population of 1.2 million, Salt Lake is bigger than the Charleston metro, though not by much as we close in on 800,000 people. However, they are light years ahead on transit. Their robust, multimodal network includes buses, light rail, bus rapid transit, commuter rail, ride share and bikes. And the most important part: people are using it. In fact, they have 44.2 million riders annually. Seeing is believing, and we saw people actively riding the transit system all day long.
As we gear up for our own Lowcountry Rapid Transit, I took note of the impact their new bus rapid transit line has made. The line has been opened for only a year in Utah County and it has changed how people view transit.
There are two main reasons for the success of their transit: honesty and collaboration.
They built the bus rapid transit (BRT) line in the places it makes sense and for the people it makes sense for. They were honest in recognizing that not every citizen was going to use it, but there was a need and an audience that would. They catered to that audience and it has created impactful relief on the roads for those who choose to drive. Everyone wins.
Collaboration was and continues to be key for the Utah Transit Authority and their partners. They work hand in hand with each other, but they have also collaborated with the community, listening to their needs and wants.
It is one thing to hear about transit – it is another to experience it. We loaded all 56 attendees onto their light rail line and rode for approximately the same distance of the proposed Lowcountry Rapid Transit line. It was inspiring and encouraging to experience this system working, and working well.
Collaboration was a key theme throughout the entire day. It is clearly an ethos in Salt Lake’s community and is a cornerstone to their success and ability to make things happen. Bringing not only a willingness, but an eagerness, to collaborate back to our region will be imperative.
It was an impactful day with valuable takeaways paired with stunning views, interesting facts and great company. I look forward to seeing what day two brings.
Thank you to TD Bank for making this year’s Metro Leadership Visit possible. Our hospitality sponsor, Hilton Garden Inn Charleston Waterfront, session sponsor, Dominion Energy and dinner sponsor, Womble Bond Dickinson, all helped to ensure Day One of MLV was a success.