Ogden, Utah Mayor Matthew Godfrey

Why Did Ogden, Utah Lead The USA In Job Growth?

Ogden, Utah Mayor Matthew Godfrey

In my new position at Weber State University, I’m seeing a lot of interesting things happen. One of the most exciting is the recent announcement via the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that Ogden, Utah added more jobs than any other region in America during the past 12 months. Really, little old Ogden? Yep.

I wanted to know how this happened. While I don’t think there is a single person or answer to point towards, I do think that Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey had a lot to do with it. I asked Mayor Godfrey if he’d be willing to write a guest post about how this job growth is happening as a lot of other cities and people are interested in the topic. In fact, it may be the hottest topic around right now.

Let me be clear, I am not trying to turn this into a blog about politics, so I’m hoping this post won’t unleash a bunch of political trolls. I’m kidding, of course comment as you’d like. The fact remains that Ogden added more jobs during the past 12 months than anyone else. I wanted to hear from their leader how he thinks it happened. Mayor Godfrey definitely deserves a large amount of credit for these results.

So with that, let’s hear from him. It’s an interesting look from the inside at how communities might want to approach their own problems with the slow growth and massive job losses happening across the USA.

We took the road less traveled.

Most cities chase big box retail stores because that is the quickest and easiest way to infuse cash into city coffers. Our belief has been that such a focus creates a false micro-economy because you are shifting tax dollars rather than growing them. Our strategy has been to recruit high paying jobs to town. We don’t get a dime of direct tax revenue in doing so, but our belief has been that this creates the proverbial “rising tide” that will give us much more benefit in the long run. The recent announcement by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics that we are leading the country in job growth for the past 12 months along with our relatively stable revenue stream in this down economy are evidence our plan is working.

The strategy to make this happen has been interesting. We first had to create an environment attractive to businesses. Our downtown was a mess. The short story is that over a several year period and many gallons of blood, sweat and tears, we have redeveloped more than 120 acres of downtown, creating a much more exciting, unique place to which we could recruit businesses. But the more difficult issue is which businesses could we recruit.

We started where most cities had achieved success and that was with the high tech sector. The plan was to begin filling up the downtown spaces with tech jobs and then move to the outdoor industry, since our ultimate target was to be the “Capital of High Adventure Recreation”. After several years of no success in recruiting a single job to town we, through good fortune, moved right to recruiting the outdoor industry, specifically the ski industry. Curt Geiger from Descente met with me and expressed a desire to move from Denver to Ogden and shared the vision of Ogden becoming the “Hub” of the ski industry. With our visions aligning and Descente moving here, momentum was created that helped bring about two dozen different brands to Ogden. Curt Geiger spent a significant amount of his personal time helping us recruit other companies.

Ironically, with a solid outdoor company cluster, now the high tech sector has shown interest in Ogden and have begun moving here. The rebranding of Ogden as an outdoor Mecca has helped us recruit a diverse employment base. Last year we recruited companies that are in the process of hiring an additional 2,200 jobs to Ogden. We are on track to do the same again this year. This article from the Wall Street Journal in August 2011 highlights Ogden as one of 7 hot hubs for tech growth, specifically in the outdoor sector.

We also are 9 months into a campaign to recruit companies from Los Angeles and we are now reaching out to Chicago. Recent tax hikes in these cities along with continued high cost of doing business make them ideal targets. The first L.A. company has moved in and we expect many more to come.

Finally, we have been recruiting many start-up companies and have plans to greatly expand that effort with a Weber State University foundation called WSURF. While the job numbers are insignificant now, we believe they will be some of our largest employers of high paying jobs in the near future.

While the road less traveled has been lonely and rough, we have had great partners in our business community that have helped make things happen. We have also been fortunate to have great employees over the years that have made all the difference in executing this strategy. I believe this is the beginning of very exciting things for Ogden.

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About Mayor Matt Godfrey

  • Great Article!  Mr. Godfrey has done a great job of making Ogden an attractive place for business!

  • cboyack

    This mayor often uses the word “recruit.” What exactly does he mean by that, I wonder? Is his city offering financial incentives of some sort?

    Job growth is important, but by no means is it the best or most moral metric for a government. Government is not business, nor should it be. To the extent that a government is taxing one group of citizens to financially benefit another, or playing games with taxes to subsidize or waive taxes for one group while retaining a higher tax burden an other, than the government is corrupt and has exceed its proper bounds. 

    So it’s interesting to note the mayor repeatedly referring to “recruiting.” Does he mean that he’s going around to each company and asking them if they’d be interested in opening shop in that town? If so, awesome! But if he’s playing fast and loose with the taxes his government confiscates from individuals, then he is in the wrong — even if he’s helping to create jobs along the way.

    • alex_lawrence

      Connor – I’m glad you took the time to come over here and comment.  Thank you.

      Regarding two parts of it, specifically:

      1 – Might I suggest that you use the words “in my opinion” or something of the like once in awhile.  I know it isn’t your style, but if you read your comment above, it makes it sound like you are stating facts, which maybe you are, but maybe you aren’t.  Just a thought.

      2 – More importantly (although I just listed it second here), you and I have a fundamental disagreement here.  I personally don’t think that government recruiting businesses using tax dollars or otherwise as PART (not all) of an incentive is either immoral nor corrupt.  I do agree that it should not be the driving force.  Creating a great place to live/work while indeed “going around to each company and asking them if they’d be interested in opening shop” are the main factors.  I don’t know for sure, but I think Mayor Godfrey has spent a lot of time doing both.  If not, he should.  However, I don’t mind him and others doing that and offering tax incentives.  

      Finally, I love your use of the word ‘confiscate’.  I’ve never heard that before when referring to taxes. LOL.

      We need to meet in person sometime and have some reasoned discourse over this subject and others.  I’m not trying to incent a comment crazed blog post here, but I did want to respond since you took the time to come here and do the same.  So let’s meet up sometime, dude.

    • Nearly all of the jobs that Mayor Godfrey claims credit for “recruiting” have been in redevelopment districts. That means that any new property tax goes to the city’s redevelopment agency rather than to the various taxing entities (school district, county, city general fund, etc.). The city’s redevelopment agency, in turn, uses that money to provide incentives to the businesses moving into the areas. The specific incentives vary in each case but can involve subsidized land purchase, subsidized leases, or city-funded parking or other improvements.

      Proponents of this “tax increment financing” argue that without these incentives, the businesses would not come and the property would never be improved. Hence, the taxing entities aren’t really losing anything and no harm is done. Besides, other cities are offering similar incentives so any city that wants to compete for the business must do likewise.

      Opponents of tax increment financing argue that many of the businesses that benefit from from it would often come anyway, and in some cases they’re merely relocating from not very far away. So the taxing entities really are losing, especially in a city like Ogden where a large fraction of the commercial real estate is now within redevelopment districts.

      But it’s hard to argue with the reality that other cities are doing it. California recently solved that problem (mostly) by abolishing redevelopment districts state-wide. I predict that Utah will eventually do the same, but I’m not predicting when.

  • I enjoyed this article very much. The guest post from Mayor Godfrey was an excellent idea. 

    Hearing about an important effort like this, in one of the key player’s own words provides, for the 99.9% of us who won’t be mayors and won’t have this task, a glimpse of what he was up against and what he did to make it happen in spite of it.

    I’m sure there are a few lessons that may be drawn from his experiences as well. One of these, for me, is attempting to recruit tech companies because other cities have had success doing so – and failing, re-focusing on the outdoor industry and succeeding, and only then seeing tech companies begin to move in. This tells me something about staying with my own areas of strength rather than an area where others may be having great success and that may be hot, but where I don’t particularly stand out.

    Finally, Mr Boyack, your statement that “Job growth is important, but by no means is it the best or most moral metric for a government” may sound great in a Philosophy or Political Science class, but it doesn’t have quite the same moral ring to someone who’s been out of work for 10 months. After spending the past 10 months trying to find work as well as studying hours on end daily to advance my skills, the most moral metric for a government, in my eyes, has nothing to do with the paucity of tax breaks used to entice new businesses. It has everything to do with its success in attracting new jobs. What’s the saying? When your neighbor loses his job it’s a recession – when you lose your job it’s a depression. For me, it’s a depression, and I’m glad Mayor Godfrey is doing everything he can to attract new jobs.

    All in all an excellent article. Thanks
     Michael MilliganLayton, Utah

  • Actually it’s not a fact that “Ogden added more jobs during the past 12 months than anyone else.” Those BLS statistics were preliminary and have since been revised downward. More importantly, the statistic is for the entire Ogden-Clearfield metro area, which includes all of Weber and Davis (and Morgan) counties. The job growth that contributed to that impressive statistic occurred almost entirely in Davis County. There’s no basis to credit Godfrey for it. Documentation here: http://wcforum.blogspot.com/2012/07/no-evidence-of-net-job-growth-in-ogden.html

    • alex_lawrence

      Thanks for the update, Dan. I don’t trust that link as a reputable source though. Mayor Godfrey did a lot of great things while in office. He has moved on with his life though. I’d suggest you do the same.

      • Alex, I stand by every word of that article (which I wrote) and if you dispute its accuracy then I hope you’ll be specific and professional about bringing your concern to my attention, rather than publishing vague accusations.

        Facts are facts, and it does no service to our community to pretend that Ogden has added thousands of jobs when it hasn’t.

        Regarding Mayor Godfrey, he may no longer be mayor but he is still a public figure, soliciting and receiving taxpayer-funded contracts from other cities in the local area. His job-creation record is still very much a matter of legitimate public concern.

        As for your final comment, I would again ask you to be professional and refrain from changing the subject to your personal opinion about my life.

      • rudizink

        Weber County Forum, which has been dutifully posting Ogden City news and analysis for over ten years, is NOT a “reputable source?” Who the hell is Axex Lawrence after all these years we ask, LOL

  • Danny

    I only found this article be way of the disreputable Weber County forum. Don’t worry Mr. Lawrence, I won’t come back here again.

    The owner of this blog is the silly pretentious type that gravitated to Godfrey. I love the way Lawrence uses the word “we” as if he had anything to do with anything.

    Almost all of the jobs Godfrey “created” were as result of taxpayer subsidized developments that moved them from one part of town to another. There was little if any creation of jobs on a “net” basis. Mr. Lawrence, look up what a “net” basis means.

  • KatyaZ

    Whether Ogden (or the Ogden metro
    statistical area) is THE #1 area in job
    recruitment or not is not as important as the fact that Ogden held its own when
    the rest of the country was hemorrhaging jobs. Former Mayor Godfrey, while no
    saint (and I don’t think he’s ever claimed to be) deserves credit for
    understanding the “quick” fix often ends up being more of a burden
    than a solution and looking at alternatives. Balanced growth of a city is a
    tricky thing. You have to have jobs, but to get jobs, there must be amenities
    and recreational activities for potential workers and a decent housing
    inventory. In my opinion, Ogden has done a good job with that juggling act.

    I have the luxury of a portable
    job: my employer doesn’t care where I live as long as I have internet access, a
    car, and a phone. At the same time, I
    understand the importance of a strong, diverse economic base. A variety of industry provides stability and
    safeguards against the crash of a single market during down times.

    One of the things that attracted
    me to Ogden was that it didn’t look like Big Box Every Town USA. I could see
    that downtown had been…recently less desirable (trying to be tactful), but I
    could also see the enormous effort going on to revitalize it using independent
    and local businesses and encouraging downtown home ownership. And I could see
    that there is much potential still to even further revitalize downtown.

    The smart cities of the future
    will be the ones that understand sprawl is wasteful, walkability of retail
    areas is crucial, diversity is an asset, and a broad economic base is the best
    insurance against recession. The cities
    that will thrive will be the ones that understand livability and uniqueness,
    while not quantifiable, must be
    considered when making decisions about urban planning. Sometimes
    that means saying “no” to the big names and “yes” to opportunities that may not
    be as impressive at first look, but have long-range potential.

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