Former Utah Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman addressed the annual meeting of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah) on Thursday at the Grand America Hotel, where a record crowd of 750 business, education, government and civic leaders gathered to celebrate EDCUtah's 25th anniversary of economic development in the state.
Governor Gary R. Herbert also spoke at the event.
Huntsman, who is beloved in Utah for his "results matter, principles before politics" approach to leadership, used self-deprecating charm to describe himself as a failed musician and "pretty much a failed politician." He went on to say "irrelevance happens pretty darn quickly," and noted that "in a world that is in a vice grip of debt, fear and uncertainty, Utah will have to continue to do 'double back flips.'"
Everybody is deleveraging and will do so for the next three to five years, he continued. "We are all in debt and it is eating us alive." Huntsman described one of the most important economic events of his lifetime as being the impact of the information age on capitalism.
"We are communicating like never before," he said, "but we are removing unskilled workers from the labor force and leaving them behind."
Comparing the greater productivity of Apple Corporation workers verses McDonalds workers, he said "Utah's future is going to see a lot more Apples than McDonalds," and offered four thoughts regarding the future for Utah and the U.S.:
- "We need to recognize there will be a manufacturing renaissance in the U.S. The rest of the world is dying. Investment is down. Capital is floating around looking for a place to land," he explained, noting that Caterpillar Inc. brought its manufacturing back to the U.S. and giants like Ford Motor Company are also investing in their U.S. operations. The reason: "We still have the rule of law. We still have the Constitution."
For Utahns, he cautioned, "This state needs to prepare for the renaissance right around the corner. We need to recognize the power of feedstock economics. This state needs to recognize what is around the bend, focus on fundamentals and get there first."
- We need to be faster than our competition, he warned.
- "We need a properly trained generation to make it happen. The generation coming up is anxious to succeed, and they are tech savvy, but we have to get that workforce development right," he said. "We have to invest in our human capital. Focusing on our workforce preparation will give this state a huge advantage."
- "We have to keep an eye on the competition…the neighborhood," he continued, noting that the question business leaders need to ask is: "Are we relevant? Are you going to attract brainpower? If not, you will fall into irrelevancy."
Huntsman concluded by offering his reasons for being optimistic about the nation's future: "We are the envy of the world, the guiding light," he said. "We have an innovative and resilient spirit."
For example, he said in the 1960s a phone call to India cost approximately $12 per minute. Today it costs about one cent per minute. Further, computer storage cost approximately $1 million per megabyte in the 60s. Today it costs about a penny a megabyte.
"Are we moving forward at lightning speed and not realizing it?" Huntsman questioned.
In his remarks, Governor Gary Herbert noted that when Huntsman left the governorship, he left the state on solid footing. Governor Herbert went on to say that the unprecedented partnerships in the state "give us unlimited possibilities and create an environment that is conducive to entrepreneurs."