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Utah Rises to the Pandemic Challenge With Economic Recovery Plan

Although the COVID-19 pandemic caught most of the world off guard, some places did a better job than others at adapting to the restrictions and developing plans for a speedy recovery. One of those places is Utah, which has earned high marks for the way it helped prepare residents and businesses for life during and after coronavirus. 

An April analysis of 100 U.S. metro areas, conducted by Moody’s Analytics and reported by Forbes, found that two cities in Utah – Salt Lake City and Provo – were among the 10 metro areas that are best prepared to bounce back from the pandemic. Here’s the rest of the Top 10, in alphabetical order:

  • Boise, Idaho
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Durham, North Carolina
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Raleigh, North Carolina
  • San Jose, California
  • Tucson, Arizona
  • Washington, D.C.

While mid-sized metro areas dominated the list of best-prepared cities, the opposite was true on the other end of the spectrum. The 10 cities deemed least prepared included six of the nation’s top 20 metro areas by population: New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Tampa. One obvious conclusion is that cities with lots of people living in close proximity have a harder time containing a highly contagious virus – and rebounding from it.

Utah’s comparatively low population density likely helped it deal with the coronavirus and prepare for its aftermath. The state’s biggest city, Salt Lake City, ranks only No. 47 among U.S. metro areas by population, while Utah itself ranks No. 30 among the states.

But while low population density helped Utah, it also got a boost from government moves to ensure a swift recovery from the economic fallout. In June, the Utah legislature held a special session to take advantage of Federal CARES Act funds and prepare for an economic recovery. The legislature also amended and assigned initiatives to the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). Here were some of the highlights:

  • COVID-19 Commercial Rental Assistance Program Updates: In addition to $40 million in commercial property rental assistance, the GOED administered grants that provide rental relief to Utah small businesses that lost revenue during the pandemic, including nonprofits, sole proprietors, independent contractors, and self-employed individuals.
  • COVID-19 Impacted Businesses Grant Program: This $25 million “Shop In Utah” grant provides money to businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19. To qualify, businesses must offer a discount or other offer with an estimated value to consumers of at least 50% of the grant amount.
  • Tourism COVID-19 Recovery: This is a $12 million initiative that directs the Utah Office of Tourism to use state and regional marketing campaigns to increase tourism in Utah. The state’s Office of Tourism was also directed to work with national parks on transportation solutions that make it easier to visit Utah’s popular tourist destinations
  • COVID-19 Displaced Worker Grant Program: Dubbed “Learn & Work In Utah,” 

this $9 million program provides training for workers displaced due to COVID-19. It includes support for the Utah System of Higher Education’s Custom Fit program and several other workforce training programs. In addition, the Department of Workforce Services was instructed to create a dashboard to identify unemployment and job opening trends that match workers with job opportunities.

  • COVID-19 PPE Support Grant Program. This $5 million “Safe In Utah” initiative provides grants to businesses to help them improve workplace safety for workers and customers during the pandemic.

These initiatives are expected to help secure Utah’s status as a magnet for new residents, experts say. Meanwhile, Salt Lake City should get a boost from the Moody’s Analytics report.

“Denver and Salt Lake City are well-positioned to retake their crown as two of the fastest-rising metro areas in the U.S.,”  Adam Kamins, senior regional economist at Moody’s Analytics, wrote in the report.

It also helps that Utah has a diversified economy and “really good workforce,” Zions Bank senior economist Robert Spendlove said in an interview on the KSL-TV website.

“We’ve got great employers and good conditions for success,” Spendlove said.


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