SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – The U.S. Census has labeled Utah as the fastest-growing state in the country. As more people move here, there’s questions about what this means for drought conditions, and the state’s job and housing market.
While nearly all of Utah remains in extreme or exceptional drought conditions, Gov. Spencer Cox said Utahns are cutting their water usage, and data shows it.
“We have seen a reduction in water in almost every district in the state, so people are taking this seriously when you compare the percentage of this year versus past years,” he said.
However, the Governor said if the state sees yet another dry year, “things [will] get especially dicey.”
Living in a desert, Gov. Cox said the state (and Utahns) have to be concerned about water use and drought conditions.
Plans – like xeriscaping – are in the works to limit water use.
As more people move to the Beehive State, a lot more homes and businesses are going up. Gov. Cox said state leaders are having to take a closer look at water conservation efforts.
“Building is going on at an ever-increasing rate. Which I must say, we have a water issue too and so we’re constantly looking at that, how many houses are we building, what does conservation look like?” he said. “Water is the one thing that could increase the cost of housing exponentially more if we’re not able to build and create new housing options. But this is something we’re worried about. We don’t want to become California, we’re all concerned about it.”
For the first time in the state’s history, Gov. Cox said Utah is seeing a statewide housing boom, and affordable housing remains a critical issue, noting it takes time to implement.
He said millions of dollars are being set aside for projects.
“Saying we don’t want to be like California is a really popular statement – it’s great wholeheartedly,” the Governor said. “There are a lot of Californians that want California to be like Utah and so they’re coming to Utah and we’re glad you’re here. I just tell them all the time, ‘Whatever you do, don’t turn us into the place you left, remember why we are the way we are.’”
Surrounding communities can benefit from population growth, Gov. Cox said, as long as the infrastructure is in place.
“We’re trying to be thoughtful and strategic about it,” he said.
As the state invests into its future, the Governor said an example of this is the possibility of bringing in rideshares to go up Little Cottonwood Canyon.
The legislature is beginning to also look at adding more bar licenses to the state. The Governor agrees with them.
“We should be adjusting based on population growth,” he said.
In upcoming legislative sessions, the Governor said it’s likely more bills will be proposed, investing in the state’s future.
With an ever-evolving economy, Gov. Cox also said the cost of living is rising dramatically. A new report suggests a person needs to earn at least $20.21 an hour to afford a 2-bedroom apartment in Utah.
“I talk to employers all the time who are struggling to find enough employees. Again, we have more jobs available right now in Utah than maybe ever before,” he said. “What that does is that competition increases wages. I hear employers all the time saying, ‘Yep, I’m increasing my wages so that we can attract a workforce. Now that’s good for workers.”
The Governor said as competition continues, wages will increase.
What he’s most worried about is having openings for higher-paying jobs, but people not having the skills to attain the position.
“What can we do to make it easier cheaper, quicker for people to upskill and to get these better jobs that are available,” he said. “Instead of paying $30 an hour to work at McDonald’s, I think we should help the McDonald’s worker get a $30 an hour job and that’s where my focus is and that’s the change I want to make.”
A question quickly followed up by this comment with ‘Who then works at McDonald’s?’
“Yeah, my kid works at McDonald’s that’s what happens,” the Governor said in his response.