Education, Economy & Quality of Life:
Key Components for City Transformation
Published February 19, 2020
When did Draper City begin to experience its current economic and real estate expansion?
We had a population of around 4,000 in the mid-90s, which then grew over the subsequent 7 years. It then tapered off, and we started seeing our latest expansion around 10-12 years ago. Our population today is just shy of 50,000.
Aerial view of Draper City, Utah.
Draper City's eBay campus.
What were the drivers behind this incredible growth?
Utah, Nevada and Idaho are the fastest growing states in the U.S. I think a lot of this is attributed to our quality of life. We’re not as congested as other, neighboring states, and property is still relatively affordable. Utah’s growth rate is around 78% internal, thanks to our high birth rate.
But it was the efforts of our political leadership around 10-12 years ago that had a massive impact. They set out to develop a robust tech and manufacturing sector that would bring high-paying jobs to our state. We did this by finding ways to incentivize companies to come to Utah, starting with the governor’s office. I see a lot of similarities with the efforts being made by Nevada’s political leadership to diversify the economy, such as opening the door for manufacturing jobs.
"In concert with developing a diverse economy that could withstand a deep recession, Utah Transit Authority leaders were forward-thinking and saw the need for light rail."
What needed to change from a legislative perspective in order to allow and encourage development?
Governor Jon Huntsman created the Office of Economic Development (GOED) during his second term. He was a strategic thinker that wanted to turn Utah into a brand. He used this brand to market the state to the types of industries that we wanted to attract to the state. GOED was able to present companies looking at relocating to Utah with favorable tax incentives. This included returning a percentage of their revenue in order to cover the cost of their infrastructure investment over the course of a number of years. We’ve done something quite similar at the Draper City level, as have other cities in the state.
Former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (center) visiting a Salt Lake City manufacturing facility.
What role has transportation played in this economic expansion?
In concert with developing a diverse economy that could withstand a deep recession, Utah Transit Authority leaders were forward-thinking and saw the need for light rail. Mind you, this was a very controversial proposal at the time, because many people did not believe that we needed light rail. The assumption was true at the time, but looking at our population growth over the years, it makes sense to have the system in place today.
The TRAX light rail system connects Salt Lake City to neighboring communities.
Utah Transit Authority developed the North-South Salt Lake Line, which received a lot of pushback. However, once it opened, it was a smashing success. The line was then expanded to the University of Utah, followed by a new line to the western part of the region. That westward expansion was shortly followed by further economic growth along that line.
Frontrunner is our commuter line, which connects Ogden and Provo. The usage of that line alone takes away about 1.7 lanes of rush hour congestion on our highways. I would guess that we couldn’t function without it today. We still have a ways to go. Our growth rate is such that it is still a challenge to get people from point A to point B.
We also invest in trails that commuters can travel on via pedal-assist bikes, with the objective of encouraging people to commute in that manner. In fact, whenever we improve a road, we construct a bike path, as a way of expanding this infrastructure. By this summer, Draper and Lehi will be connected via one of these paths, which will be maintained and plowed throughout the year, so that people can get to and from their jobs in these respective cities without having to get into their car.
"STEM became a big deal within our school system about a decade ago, and since then, it’s become a big part of our children’s education."
Have you experienced an increase in office space development in Draper?
Definitely. We’ve seen millions of square feet of new office space developed in the community by high quality companies hiring thousands of workers. One notable project is technology company Pluralsight, which is currently building their 1 million square foot global headquarters here in Draper, where 4,000 people will be employed.
Pluralsight's million square foot global headquarters in Draper City.
How has housing been affected by this growth?
Home prices have steadily risen; Draper City is second to Park City in home value in the state. In 1989, you could rent an apartment in this community for around $250 a month. Median apartment prices today are in excess of $1000 per month. In order to find affordable housing, sometimes people need to commute from outside the general vicinity. We do have a housing shortage in Utah, as a result of our economic growth. In fact, we’re probably short by around 50,000 units. Our next transportation expansion will need to be south and west, so that we can make that commute easier for people to come into work in Draper.
"The first step was deciding what kind of economy we wanted to become and what kinds of jobs we wanted in the community."
How does open space figure into Draper City’s planning?
We’ve spent $21 million over the last decade and a half for open space acquisitions. There are over 5,000 acres of dedicated open space with over 118 miles of built multi-use dirt trails and plans for another 100 more in the works. This has added to the allure of the city for tech companies and their employees. It provides residents with that work-life balance that everyone is in pursuit of.
Did your education system play a key role in your economic growth?
It played a big part. Over the last twelve plus years, our state legislature has consistently dedicated a lot of funding for our education system. It’s our top expenditure. In fact, we have a constitutional mandate that every dollar collected from state income tax goes to education. STEM became a big deal within our school system about a decade ago, and since then, it’s become a big part of our children’s education. We have a link between our high schools and community colleges, whereby, students have the opportunity to take classes at a collegiate level before they even receive their high school diploma. We’re also fortunate to have respected schools in our state, such as the University of Utah, Brigham Young University and Utah State University.
The Utah STEM Bus takes science and technology learning to schools up and down the state.
What would you say was the magic recipe for Draper City in transforming itself so effectively?
The first step was deciding what kind of economy we wanted to become and what kinds of jobs we wanted in the community. The next element that we focused on was ensuring that we could offer residents and newcomers a high quality of life. This is probably the most important thing that people and companies tend to look at. Lastly, we worked in alliance with our education system, including our school districts and universities, to figure out how we were going to fund the various educational initiatives that we needed to get to that level. Transparency is a key element to make this part successful. One other thing that’s very important today is a strong and consistent media presence delivering this entire message. These steps have worked in making Draper City and Utah the success that we are today.
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