Monday, January 29, 2007

Aspiring to Something You are Not

I was having dinner last night with my family, and the discussion turned to how the new City Creek Center was going to have a Dillard’s department store, but not something higher-end, like a Neiman Marcus, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdales, etc. The answer given was that Salt Lake does not have the economic strength to sustain stores that cater to a customer base that would routinely spend $2000+ for a pair of shoes (either sex). The fact is I agree with them.

With this morning’s news, I realized that is probably the major mistake that Dave Checketts made when creating his business plan. He believed Salt Lake City is something that it is not. Beyond the arguments of soccer’s viability in the market, the secondary supports of his stadium plan were based on unrealistic projections of what the Salt Lake Valley market can sustain. As has been made abundantly clear, we have difficulty selling out even the most popular touring acts at the largest venues. The use of an outdoor stadium for a summer sport is limited, as long as Utah does not become even more of a desert.

When RSL came, I was hopeful; I still hope it works. However, the deeper problem is our state’s education status. It has been long established that, for the most part, earning power is determined by education level; subsequently, businesses choose certain ventures based on money but also on where that money comes from. In Utah, it comes from a relatively few elite citizens, too few for businesses like Crate & Barrel and the Cheesecake Factory, according to published reports. These citizens are the ones with college degrees, all 28 percent of Utahns, as of last year. I suspect that is why we aren’t getting a Saks Fifth Ave or Brooks Brothers either. It is also why the RSL stadium plan was so shoddy in the first place. I suppose that Checketts was unable to attract enough private financial support because of this (and other factors) and he leaned too heavily on public financing. I do not say that he was wrong to ask for public support; while in a perfect world, tax money would go to arts and cultural life before sports stadia, but we are living in a real world where public financing is almost a certainty.

That is why I feel it will such a huge mistake for Utah to miss this opportunity to strongly invest in Utah’s public education system at all levels, and not waste time and money on an unproven scheme like vouchers. Over the next week or so, I will be publishing an updated analysis I produced three years ago for a college course on state and local government (not politics). The topic was school choice, and the results were surprising, even to me. I got a 98/100, and I hope the updates will be up to that muster.

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