So What If Provo Grows Quickly?

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.

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2 Comments

Filed under building, Development

2 responses to “So What If Provo Grows Quickly?

  1. andrewhart5

    This is very interesting. I’m glad you’re weighing in on this, and I hope to see more. I sincerely hope that Provo is, indeed, actively trying to attract people and businesses. Two years ago when the downtown was just rumbling and the possibilities were exciting, the passive approach was quite disappointing.One individual in particular, (who I thought should be more proactive than anyone in the city) when asked what Provo City has to offer that entices investment in Provo responded with a swooping motion upward, “blue skies.” I don’t want to say Provo is purely getting lucky, because that takes away from the hard work by people like John Curtis and others. But I do think that some city employees are looking like rock stars when they are simply there at the right time.
    I acknowledge that I’m not as close to the situation as I used to be, so I reserve that I may be off on my assessment. Either way, I love to watch the success of Provo from afar.

    • Good article. I think you’re right in saying that cities have to attract new “customers” if you will as the city is built on diversity and diversity comes from a varying multitude of people with different ideas, thoughts, priorities, and desires. I would argue that cities can go out of business which you may have seen with rust belt cities such as Gary, Indiana and Youngstown, Ohio. I purposely exclude my city, Detroit, where we in fact are pushing to gain new investment, attract new customers, figuratively and literally, and engage and energize those people who are already here.

      I also think the mall analogy works well on the surface level as in many ways people have been turning the mall experience into a small city experience. Example Partridge Creek in Utica or Randerhurst Village which I just read about today in Illinois.

      An explosion in population will not hurt a city that has the infrastructure to accomplish it hence fast growth may be good growth or replenishing growth if you will. (Detroit was built for a few million people, peaked at 2.1 million, and now has around 700,000 people so an influx of 1 million people would only be making things better, all things being equal).

      So the only real argument is the question of infrastructure and jobs. Does Provo have the capacity to house new people and put them to work in the city if necessary? Otherwise, fast growth could be damaging growth for the community.

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