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.