U.S. News & World Report  has again placed Utah at the top spot of its latest Best State rankings. The report reflects how each state is doing each year in eight categories. Unlike last year when Utah ranked #1 in Economy and Overall, this year the Beehive State fell short of first place in any of the eight categories. However, overall, Utah still achieved the top spot when all criteria were considered.

The Best States rankings are developed using a methodology relying on survey results of nearly 70,000 people who were asked to prioritize each subject in their state in eight categories. In these categories, Utah scored big in Education (up three places coming in at number 2 this year), Crime & Corrections (up six places), and Opportunity (up two places).  

In another category that Utah is famous for, Natural Environment, the US News 2024 Best State rankings showed a stubborn trend. Utah was ranked 46 for the second year in a row. While Utah is famous for its magnificent desert landscapes and plentiful natural assets, it is also becoming well-known for its air pollution problems. Utah's winter inversions are a big factor in the state's air pollution problem, which is likely the reason the state's more tangible natural assets—its magnificent lakes, mountains, deserts and unparalleled red rock landscapes—failed to move the state from 46th place in this category.

There are signs of improvement in this area. Acccording to the Utah Department of Environmental Air Quality's 2023 Air Quality Annual Report, air quality is improving, at least along the Wasatch Front during winter months. Utah's DEQ's data suggest that air quality remains in an improvement trend over the past two decades despite a period of unprecedented growth in population and economic activity along the Wasatch Front.

While accolades are welcome and appreciated, Utah still struggles with worrisome issues. The state's economy is doing well according to most measures, and yet this year it is showing some signs of softening. According to the 2024 US News Economy category, Utah slid two places, landing at number three.

Further, the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data show Utah's job growth is slipping, especially in the financial and tech sectors. Utah's tech sector accounts for 10 to 15% of economic impact as a percentage of Utah's $225 billion+ economy, depending on the data source analyzed. While it did pull back in 2023, the sector is showing a rebound in 2024, according to CompTIA's latest jobs data. Once at the top of the heap for job growth, now a handful of states—Nevada, Idaho, Colorado, Arizona, Texas, Florida, South Carolina—are edging ahead of Utah. As presented in April 2024 at the 2024 One Utah Summit, Kem C. Gardner Director, Natalie Gochnour said Utah's fastest growing industry is now the government sector, growing about 4.8% from the previous year.

She said other issues need to be closely monitored and addressed. These are presented in the 2023 "The New Utah" report from the Gardner Institute. Some of them include:

  • Water. Great Salt Lake elevation levels act as a measure of how the state is doing, at least northern Utah, in terms of water supply affecting the health of Utah's public, agriculture, recreation and wildlife. With two strong winter snowpacks, including the recent big late season storm this month, is a positive signal in the right direction.
  • Chronic homelessness
  • Transportation congestion
  • Housing affordability. Gochnour's findings show that Utah had 650,000 more people moving into Utah than are moving out, according to the latest data. "That's the size of Utah County's population in the last census," said Gochnour. She linked this trend with high housing prices. "All these people need housing. We have a shortage of housing. This shortage and high demand drives up housing costs. I love Utah being a destination of choice, but it creates challenges as well."
  • Energy balance. "Utah has been a net energy exporter for 40 years, until now. We are now an net energy importer."

Gardner Policy Institute also calls out how Utah is becoming more diverse ethnically. Nearly one in four Utahns are now a racial/ethnic minority, making Utah more diverse than states like Indiana, Nebraska, Missouri, Ohio, Minnesota, and Wisconsin and about the same as Pennsylvania. Within the next two decades this ratio is projected to increase to one in three, according to Gardner Institute.

On LinkedIn Governor Spencer Cox expressed satisfaction in Utah's recognition by US News & World Report:

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