Enjoy Life in the

Intermountain West

By A. Scott Anderson

President and CEO, Zions Bank

One of the benefits of my jobs is that I have the opportunity to frequently travel across Utah, Idaho and the Jackson area of Wyoming to visit with our bank employees and many of the leaders in the communities we serve. I am continually amazed at the wonders of our region, both in terms of the abundant natural beauty and the vibrant communities that visionary leaders have built in our mountain valleys.

As the Thanksgiving season approaches, it’s worth taking a moment to consider how fortunate we are to live, work and raise families in the Intermountain West.

Certainly, every city and state in the country has its own charms and uniqueness. We live in a great nation, from sea to shining sea. It’s hard to beat the beaches of Florida, the climate of Southern California, the steel and glass canyons of New York City, and the majestic monuments of Washington, D.C.

But there’s a reason the Intermountain West often leads the nation in population growth and economic vitality, and is frequently recognized as the best region to start a business and raise a family. This success is occurring despite the fact that we have no oceans or ports, few navigable rivers, no gigantic cities, and cold winters.

What we do have more than makes up for those perceived challenges. We obviously have terrific outdoor recreation opportunities. We’re never far from forests, mountains, lakes, streams, canyons and deserts. Our backyards are the wide open spaces. With skiing and other winter recreation, we’ve made our four-season climate an asset, rather than a liability.

Our biggest advantage, however, isn’t our location, outdoor resources or gorgeous landscapes. Our real strength is the hardworking people who inhabit our cities, towns and rural areas, along with our leaders in government, business and nonprofit organizations.

Good leadership makes all the difference. Leaders in the Intermountain West tend to be pragmatic problem solvers rather than ideological zealots. They tend to collaborate and work together, sharing responsibility and accomplishments, rather than seeking individual recognition.

The results are remarkable. Idaho and Utah lead the nation in job growth and enjoy some of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates. Young people are able to find good jobs that support a family. We have strong job training and higher education institutions that prepare students for jobs that exist now and in the future.

Adding to our enviable quality of life is our commitment to arts and culture. In small towns and large cities in Utah, Idaho and the Jackson area, our citizens and leaders support symphonies, opera, dance, theater, visual arts and numerous community festivals.

Randy Shumway, Zions Bank economic adviser, recently wrote that arts programs in Utah and Idaho draw visitors, sell tickets, boost local employment and enliven community culture. According to a 2015 study sponsored by Americans for the Arts, Idaho is home to 3,011 arts-related businesses that employ 9,693 people.

When the Idaho Shakespeare Festival began in 1977 in Boise, it drew 350 people on opening night. Back then, tickets cost $3.50 and sales revenue totaled $1,225. Today, the Shakespeare Festival attracts more than 60,000 patrons each season. Tickets range from $27 to $75, and total revenue surpasses $1.6 million.

In Utah, some 7,006 arts-related businesses employ 27,210 people. Two new theaters have or will soon open in the Salt Lake Valley: The Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City and the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy. These venues will help meet the large demand for theater in Utah and enable additional large-scale performances. Many other arts and cultural programs flourish in Utah.

All in all, Idaho and Utah are terrific places to live, work and play. That doesn’t mean we don’t have major challenges and plenty of work to do to maintain our great quality of life. But our collaborative tradition means we can overcome whatever problems we face.