Logan has been named the second-best performing small city in the United States by the Milken Institute’s 2021 Best Performing Cities analysis.
The analysis shows a number of “outcomes-based” metrics to measure city performance, including job creation, output growth and wage gains. Additionally, housing affordability and household broadband access metrics were also included. High-performing cities, according to the analysis, “leverage their assets” to remain attractive to businesses and workers despite outside forces — specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic.
Logan moved up one spot from last year. The analysis cited sustained job and wage growth during the pandemic, as well as a “diversified, high-tech industrial base,” as assets contributing to Logan’s high performance.
“The goal of the index is to help readers evaluate how well these cities promote economic vitality relative to their peers,” the analysis states. “The index is a tool for understanding the geography of economic opportunity, indicating where employment is stable and expanding, wages and salaries are increasing, and businesses are thriving.”
Logan City Economic Development Director Kirk Jensen said the analysis has been followed by city officials for several years and has been utilized as a marketing tool subsequent to Logan’s high ranking.
“It goes to show that we’re fortunate to live in a great place in a great community,” Jensen said. “We’re the beneficiaries of a really special place.”
For Jensen, three significant factors differentiate Logan from similar areas: a diverse economy, low rates of unemployment hovering around 3 percent, and a “balanced and pragmatic” approach to budgeting and economic development at the state level.
“We’re not overly reliant on a single industry,” Jensen said. “Logan’s economy, when you look at the types of industries and businesses we have here, it’s really quite diverse.”
Jensen said life science and high-tech companies, as well as manufacturing and food processing industries, help make up a wide variety of economic opportunities in the area. (Though the analysis does also cite food manufacturing as a liability “vulnerable to coronavirus-related headwinds,” and noted the significance of controlling COVID-19 outbreaks.)
“The university certainly adds a lot of strength and stability to our economy,” Jensen said.
According to a press release from Utah State University, the institution did not lay off or furlough any employees during the pandemic while welcoming the largest new class of students to the Logan campus in the fall.
“When COVID-19 hit over this last year, we saw a lot of other universities and colleges … all over the nation that had to do furloughs or layoff employees,” USU spokesperson Emilie Wheeler said. “We were able to not do any of that through some creative processes, and also because the state’s financial situation is actually pretty stable.”
In response to budget cuts, Wheeler said a voluntary separation program was offered to employees, which aided the valley’s largest employer in thwarting layoffs. Wheeler said many employees who received a decrease in workload, as well as around 75 student employees who were totally out of work, were also repurposed in various ways. As of the last count in 2020, Wheeler said USU employed nearly 3,000 full-time and part-time employees.
Wheeler said the increase in students, the encouragement from the university for students to stay in Logan, and the use of emergency CARES Act funding provided a boon to the local economy.
“We understand that keeping students on campus, in classes, and in Logan contributes to a stronger economy,” Wheeler said.
Jensen acknowledged the consternation of some Cache Valley residents who are concerned about the potential effects of a growing population and booming economy — namely traffic concerns, the potential city sprawl gobbling up rural areas and rising housing costs.
Housing costs “are becoming a growing concern for us,” Jensen said.
For Jensen, although the housing cost issue is multifaceted, it boils down to supply and demand. The dynamic of telecommuting was brought into “sharp reality” during the pandemic, Jensen said, as people can work from nearly anywhere an internet connection is available.
“If that dynamic persists, certainly places with a high quality of life are going to see, likely, more demand,” Jensen said. “Logan is an outstanding place to want to live and sink your roots.”
Jensen said growth is necessary to accommodate opportunities for all the residents of Cache Valley. People locating to the area currently find the housing market affordable, Jensen said, and the area’s amenities highly appealing.
“The word is out and Logan will continue to grow,” Jensen said.