Utah’s population is expected to nearly double over the next four decades, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
During a virtual forum Wednesday, gubernatorial candidates agreed that planning for that growth will involve expanding economic opportunities in rural Utah and investing in mass transit.
Helping rural communities will also help the Wasatch front, former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes argued.
“You’ve got to bring economic opportunity to the rest of this state so that young people can find a career and find a life where they grow up and can be a relief valve for the Wasatch Front,” Hughes said.
In order to accomplish that, he and other candidates suggested increasing internet access and expanding telework.
“As our local companies, not just Silicon Slopes but beyond, look to expand and diversify their own economic base, they should be looking at our great rural communities,” former Gov. Jon Huntsman said. “But that’s not going to happen unless we have broadband, energy, transportation, healthcare, training opportunities.”
Building more infrastructure like public transit will help alleviate pollution and provide more spaces where dense housing developments make sense, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said.
“Where growth precedes infrastructure, the quality of life goes down,” Cox said. “Where infrastructure precedes growth, the quality of life stays high.”
Former Utah GOP Chair and real estate executive Thomas Wright is the only Republican candidate to not have held elected office. He is painting himself as a political outsider and said he would bring a business perspective to his plans.
“When you’re in the business sector, you have to anticipate problems before they happen,” Wright said. “Government tends to confront the problem when it hits them.”
The Democratic nominee Chris Peterson weighed in on the issue as well.
“Let’s make sure we have walkable areas with low pollution and affordable housing,” Peterson said during Wednesday’s debate. “Then tie those together with infrastructure programs that bring our communities together.”
The Republican Primary is June 30 and its winner will face off against Peterson in November.
Sonja Hutson covers politics for KUER. Follow her on Twitter @SonjaHutson