May is the month when the legislative work begins again in preparation for the 2015 General Session. As I’ve mentioned in previous newsletters, the Interim is when we do the deeper research on issues or financial analysis that sets the stage for the 45-day General Session. This year I’m serving on the Business & Labor Interim Committee, the Economic Development & Workforce Services Interim Committee, and the Prison Relocation Commission. If that last assignment caught your eye, then you should prepare yourself for future newsletters to include some updates and discussion about plans to move the State Prison. For now, we are still gathering data and requesting info so it is too early to draw any conclusions or forecast any locations.
As for my other two committee assignments, you’ll see my focus is heavily on business and the state of our economy. May brought the welcome news that Utah’s unemployment rate had dropped to 3.8 %. This is a very good sign that our economy is headed in the right direction. We have recovered all the jobs lost in the recession and are continuing to see job growth across all of our business sectors. This of course is in contrast to a national unemployment rate of 6.3% and neighboring states of Idaho at 5%, Arizona at 6.9%, Nevada 8%, and Colorado 6%. Of our surrounding states, only Wyoming with its natural resource booming economy leads us by a slight amount at 3.7%. There are a lot of very good things happening in Utah right now for businesses, which of course means lots of good things for the people of Utah that work in and for businesses. But we can always do more to ensure we are attracting the right types of industries to locate here and to ensure businesses that are already here can grow and flourish. This interim, among other issues, I will be focused on policies that help us achieve those goals.
I think one path is through our education system. We have one of the youngest workforces in the nation and we have a lot of bilingual citizens. The trick is to harness these naturally occurring events in young, bilingual workers and get them trained to work in the fields that provide high paying, good quality of life careers. For the past decade, careers in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields have provided the bulk of the high paying jobs with the quality of life Utahns want. This past legislative session, we committed $20 million in additional funding to continue to support STEM education at both the high school and college level. During the interim, committees will be looking at new proposals on how to further support STEM Education and integrate more technology into the classroom. I want to caution that I don’t believe more technology in the classroom is code for replacement of teachers. Educators are critical to our educational success; while theirs tools of the trade might evolve from chalkboard to tablet computers, the core of what they do in teaching, guiding and inspiring will always remain.
If as a state we can figure out how to harness these STEM educational opportunities and then translate them into jobs and businesses, we will truly be the envy of the nation as a place to live and do business. If you want to follow legislative discussions live, you can do so by going to www.le.utah.gov and select the link for the live audio feed the committee hearings.
Want to chime in with questions, concerns or ideas? Email me at mail to: email@example.com. I don’t have all the answers or ideas so your input is always welcome! Stay tuned for updates on this issue and others each month.
Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to represent you at the Legislature.