Energy and lifestyle are becoming big factors for businesses

Mar 28 2011 - 8:44pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Renewable energy and quality of life are becoming bigger factors for businesses considering sites for relocation or expansion, attendees were told Monday during an economic summit for Utah leaders.

The overall livability of an area incorporates a lot of different measures, including clean water and air, medical facilities, education and culture, said Mike Lafitte, president of the Americas for CB Richard Ellis.

But quality of life may include other intangibles, such as weather or recreation. For example, Utah has skiing as a draw -- but only to companies with employees and bosses who don't mind cold weather, Lafitte said.

Energy costs and sustainability are also increasingly important factors, Lafitte said, and Utah does have an advantage because of renewable resources like wind, solar and geothermal.

"Utah is in a good position," Lafitte said.

Lafitte was a keynote speaker during the Utah Economic Summit, a one-day conference attended by hundreds of business executives and political leaders in downtown Salt Lake City.

While last year's summit focused on surviving the recession, this year speakers were more upbeat, especially about Utah's future growth.

There are potential problems for the economy, such as the Middle East, but the biggest concern is the ongoing debt problem for big players such as banks, said Ray Torto, global chief economist for CB Richard Ellis, who spoke with Lafitte.

"It's a little concerning how quickly debt has come back," Torto said. "Two years ago, we were all writing papers about the lessons we learned ... in 2011, those lessons are being cast aside."

The best thing state leaders can do is stay out of the way and let private business "plant the seeds that will yield a bumper crop," Gov. Gary Herbert said during a lunchtime speech.

Utah's economic growth is improving, and the state has the transportation and energy infrastructure to encourage greater development, Herbert said, adding the state's current success doesn't guarantee anything without continued investment.

"We need to maintain our position by being more innovative," Herbert said.

Along with the keynote speeches, a number of breakout sessions were conducted. Topics included rural broadband development, approaching angel investors and international businesses.

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