The coronavirus pandemic is the nation’s worst public health crisis in modern history. However, Utah’s unified, direct and robust response to the crisis serves as a role model to other states during these challenging times.
In February 2020, Utah’s unemployment rate was 2.5%, slightly higher than the state’s record low of 2.3% in December 2019. The invisible enemy, COVID-19, changed unemployment rates across the globe in just a matter of weeks.
Utah has long been known for its solid economic foundation and its workforce’s strong work ethic and can-do attitude. Now, many out-of-state businesses and individuals are taking note of Utah’s unique response to the coronavirus pandemic, looking to the state as a role model for handling this challenging health and economic crisis.
Keeping Utahns Informed
Utah continues to keep its citizens informed and engaged with the latest news about the coronavirus pandemic. The state constantly distributes timely and relevant information about the evolving crisis with the firm belief that timely and consistent information is the key to surviving the crisis.
Utah created coronavirus.utah.gov where it maintains resources and information on topics such as health, recreation and education. It also hosts a business services page where companies find the latest information on federal, state and local loans and grant programs.
Utah’s Gov. Gary Herbert hosts a daily media briefing and the state’s federal delegation provides regular updates on virtual town halls hosted by many government agencies and private companies and organizations.
Many state and local organizations have joined forces in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic including the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), Salt Lake Chamber, EDCUtah and the World Trade Center Utah, along with municipalities from across the state.
Utah Leads Together: Utah’s Plan for a Health and Economic Recovery
Governor Herbert’s rapid response to the coronavirus pandemic resulted in a swift call to action that unified both Utahns and the state’s business leaders. As infection rates rose across the U.S., the governor put Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox in charge of the state’s COVID-19 Task Force.
On March 10, 2020, the Task Force led a one-hour YouTube Live employer information session at GOED where state and organizational leaders, along with the state’s epidemiologist, Dr. Angela Dunn, spoke about the coming crisis, providing valuable information and recommendations for dealing with a possible pandemic.
Shortly after the crisis, the governor created an Economic Response Task Force whose sole purpose was to create a plan to combat COVID-19 and the effects it would have on Utah’s diverse economy. The result is “Utah Leads Together — Utah’s Plan for a Health and Economic Recovery,” version one of a comprehensive plan to mitigate the economic consequences of COVID-19.
The living report and economic playbook include timelines and recommendations from dozens of Utah state and industry leaders for a dynamic situation. The plan’s phases, measures, recommendations and other details are monitored daily and updated as required to protect lives and livelihoods. Version two of the #UtahLeadsTogether plan is underway with an anticipated publication date of April 24, 2020.
The plan is summarized by this introductory statement from Gov. Herbert, “Utah leads when we reach out and look out for the most vulnerable among us. Utah leads when we focus on a future with stronger social bonds and restored economic strength. While we now face unprecedented challenges, Utah will adapt. Utah will innovate. And, together, Utah will lead and Utah will overcome.”
The three-phased plan aims to eventually return Utah to the record-setting economic growth it enjoyed before the pandemic.
The state’s economic comeback plan looks like this:
Urgent Phase: This is the phase we are in right now and is expected to last 8 to 12 weeks. The objective is clear: minimize the spread of COVID-19 through strict social distancing measures. If we follow public health guidelines, we have a chance to get on the path to a comeback more quickly. If we don’t, we face a more prolonged, painful recovery.
A few of the initiatives Utah is adopting to immediately mitigate the impact on the economy include:
- Implementing new grant and loan programs to help small businesses and the unemployed — In addition to the SBA loans included in the federal stimulus package, Utah is offering interest-free loans to small businesses to help cover operating costs.
- Reprioritizing current spending and use rainy day funds to assist — Today is the rainy day. Even though Utah’s a fiscally conservative state, now is the time to invest those rainy day funds in shovel-ready projects and programs that will have an immediate impact.
- Repurposing economic development tools to support businesses most significantly impacted — Utah is repurposing state economic development funds to launch small business loan programs with a focus on industries like travel, hospitality and restaurants, along with rural businesses.
Stabilization Phase: This phase is expected to be the longest, likely lasting 10 to 14 weeks as monetary and fiscal policies take effect. The main objectives are to make sure there is no backtracking, provide promising medical treatments and continue to lay the groundwork for a complete economic recovery by providing additional aid to small businesses and impacted workers, leveraging the best public health data and heeding advice from medical professionals.
Recovery Phase: During the final phase, workers will likely return to work with some precautions, in-house restaurant dining slowly will return, and retail, entertainment, tourism, cultural and other industries begin to recover. Ideally, after months of pent-up demand, workers and businesses will return to traditional spending habits and markets will start to stabilize.
Utah Leads Together Small Business Bridge Loan Program
Utah’s small businesses are the backbone and lifeblood of the state’s robust and dynamic economy. Utah small businesses comprise 99% of all companies in the state. The number of individuals employed by Utah small businesses is 46% of all workers in the state. Utah is taking incredible measures to ensure their survival. One of these measures is the launch of the Utah Leads Together Small Business Bridge Loan program. Information about the program can be found at coronavirus.utah.gov.
The bridge loan program uses $11 million in state funds to provide gap funding to Utah’s small businesses. Managed by the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, it offers bridge loans to Utah-based small businesses and nonprofits with 50 or fewer employees impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Loan amounts range from $5,000 to $20,000 with 0% interest for up to five years. The loans cannot exceed three months of demonstrated operating expenses and payments are deferred for 12 months. GOED uses a minimum of 25% of the funding for rural Utah businesses.
The program, as expected, is wildly popular among small business owners. GOED received over 800 applications from small business owners in the first 24 hours after the program launched. Utah plans to complete the second tranche of the program April 13-16, 2020.
Utah’s COVID-19 Testing Efforts
The state has a proven track record for innovative and effective public-private partnerships. The coronavirus pandemic has brought Utahns together to participate in a statewide initiative to test for the coronavirus.
In partnership with Silicon Slopes, Utah launched TestUtah.com, a campaign that encourages every Utahn to take the short survey to see if they might be at risk of COVID-19. The program’s ambitious goal is to dramatically increase the rate of testing for the virus so residents can have better access to information to help stem the spread of the disease.
Submitted by the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
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