Imagine a typical mall. Inside that mall many stores, perhaps even a majority, probably sell clothes. And while some of those stores are great successes, others probably are not.
The lesson is that the supply of clothing and clothing retailers at a typical mall — or at a cluster of malls and other retailers, as Salt Lake City has — probably exceeds demand by at least a little bit. If the opposite were true, after all, stores could jack up their prices with impunity. As it is, however, stores actually offer sales, specialization and varying levels of service. They’re vying for money and some won’t survive.
So what does this have to do with anything?
Yesterday my colleague Genelle Pugmire reported that the Provo-Orem metro area is the fastest growing in the nation and will stay that way for the next five years. That’s good news because it means greater investment, diversity and many other things.
City Creek in Salt Lake. Much like a collection of stores, a collection of cities has to create an environment that draws people. In many cases, cities may be competing for the same people.
But just like a mall is a collection of stores, the Provo-Orem metro area is a collection of cities offering slightly different “products.” And much like stores competing for consumer dollars, cities in a fast-growing metro area are tasked with creating enticing environments that will lure new people.
In other words, the mall is an analogy for the way that cities in Utah County simultaneously feed off of one another and compete with one another. The big difference is that instead of dollars spent on clothing, cities are trying to get dollars spent on housing, transportation, etc.
The analogy isn’t perfect, but it should emphasize the idea that cities hoping for success need to actively court “buyers.” After all, imagine a store that spent no resources on market research, advertising, display and presentation, or improving inventory. That store would quickly go out of business.
A city won’t exactly “go out of business,” but if it doesn’t respond to a dynamic market it can lose new workers, young families, and investment generally. Or said another way, a city that does nothing in the face of demographic changes is choosing to fail.
When it comes to Provo, I’m encouraged by what I see. For example, I’ve written several times lately about the need to add affordable housing. And according to Genelle’s article, that’s what the city is doing:
“With the two recently announced developments, we anticipate a lot of growth in the downtown area,” Provo Mayor John Curtis said. “The demographic is changing. It’s not about home ownership anymore.”
Curtis added, “This complements precisely our efforts in the downtown area. We’re ready to welcome them home. For most of my three years not one residential planner has called. Now things are picking up and developers are calling.”
That suggests Provo is actively trying to capture the investment that will come with the high projected growth. Of course success requires a holistic approach, but the figures reported by Genelle should drive home the point that Utah County cities have tremendous potential right now but success for everyone is not guaranteed.