Podcast: Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute informs decisions

The University of Utah officially launches the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute today.

Natalie Gochnour

Natalie Gochnour

An initiative of the David Eccles School of Business, the new institute aims to support informed decision-making by developing and sharing economic, demographic and public policy research. In addition, the institute serves as a prestigious gathering place for thought leadership.


Jim Wood

Natalie Gochnour, the Policy Institute’s director, and Jim Wood, Ivory-Boyer Senior Fellow at the Policy Institute, discussed the purpose of the Policy Institute and its potential impact on Utah and beyond.


Listen to the podcast or read the transcript below to learn more.

You can also click here to listen to the Doug Wright Show episode that features the new institute.

Eccles School: Welcome to the Eccles School Podcast. I’m your host Sheena McFarland. Ever wonder what impact tourism has on the state of Utah? Have you ever wondered about how the real estate industry is changing the face of the state? That data can soon be at your fingertips. The University of Utah and the David Eccles School of Business recently launched the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, which brings together the Bureau of Economic and Business Research and the Center for Public Policy Administration. Joining me today to discuss the changes are Natalie Gochnour, director of the Policy Institute and an associate dean at the Eccles School and Jim Wood, Ivory-Boyer senior fellow at the Policy Institute. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Natalie Gochnour: Great to be with you Sheena.

Jim Wood: Glad to be here.

Eccles School: First, let’s talk about bringing BEBR and CPPA together and what that means for the Policy Institute and the people of Utah.

Natalie Gochnour: You know I love the thought, Sheena, of having Jim, who’s been the director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research and a long-time employee there. Tell us just a little bit of history, Jim.

Jim Wood: Well, the Bureau was founded in 1932. We’ve been part of the School of Business since then. I’m the seventh director. We have a long history of working with demographics, regional economics, construction and real estate and tourism as well as energy economics. Those are areas where we have done work over the 83 year history of the Bureau.

Natalie Gochnour: Sheena, I would love to add that when the University of Utah made the decision to put more resources into public-policy research, applied work that serves this community, a natural place to build that out from was the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. It’s been here in the Eccles School for all these years, and has a terrific reputation and so we have taken BEBR, as it is often known on the streets, and started to build it out, to create this new Policy Institute that serves the state.

Eccles School: That’s wonderful. I think we’re all really looking forward to the new research that’s going to be coming out of the Policy Institute. Tell me a little bit about what the move to the Wall Mansion means for the Policy Institute.

Natalie Gochnour: The Wall Mansion is this beautiful property on about 400 E. South Temple. It’s a place where really the first entrepreneur of Bingham Canyon – I’m just looking at Jim to make sure, I don’t know if entrepreneur is the right word, but he developed copper out of Bingham Copper Mine and was a wealthy industrialist and he built this mansion on South Temple. And over time, that mansion has been under different owners – eventually, it was given to the University of Utah, and President Pershing made the decision to make the anchor tenant be a new Public Policy Institute.

We will be taking not only the Bureau of Economic and Business Research, but the Center for Public Policy and Administration, combining those two, adding additional people and under the banner of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, moving somewhere around 30 people into that structure and the surrounding buildings and begin serving the state from a place that’s not on campus, but it’s really close to Capitol Hill, it’s close to City Hall. It’s on the premier avenue of Salt Lake City, and we hope to make it a gathering place, not just a place where people do research, but a place where we bring people together.

Jim Wood: The previous director, Thayne Robson, used to always talk about bringing town and gown together. This is a wonderful opportunity we have for that. And what I really look forward to is Wall Mansion as place to convene. It’s a beautiful building, and there are going to be spaces in the building where we can convene small groups and large groups, and I think it’s going to be a tremendous community asset.

Natalie Gochnour: I think it might be worth, Sheena, just kind of describing the property, just a little bit. You have a mansion. You have a carriage house in the back. You have a West Wing that has, after it’s done, a town hall, some conference rooms, classroom space. And so, this really becomes a place where the University can host symposiums and forums and having a Policy Institute as the anchor resident there, will be a natural fit for all of this community gathering. So I think the community should look forward to, just like other important communities have, let’s say the Hoover Institute in Northern California, the Aspen Institute in Colorado, we’ll have the Policy Institute at the University of Utah.

Eccles School: That’s wonderful, and I really like the thought of bringing the town and gown together and showing the state how applicable the data that you researched here at the Policy Institute is to policymakers and decisionmakers across the state. Tell me a little bit about why having access to that data that you’re going to be producing is important for those decisionmakers here in Utah and beyond.

Natalie Gochnour: Jim, I’ll let you have that and I’ll add some commentary when you are done.

Jim Wood: OK. We have a long history as Natalie mentioned with applied research, both BEBR and the Center for Public Policy Administration. And most of our work is really with state and local government. We do some work with the federal government, contracts with the non-profit sector. But over the years, the studies that we’ve worked on, for example that have had impact on the local community, one that stands out is USTAR. We looked at the economic impact of USTAR, which was an effort by the Huntsman administration to really nurture and develop high-tech in Utah. And I think we’re seeing some of the fruits of that now. And from that study, we looked at again the economic impact. But what it has meant is ongoing appropriation to the University of Utah and Utah State in the amount of about $12 million for the University of Utah, $6 million for USU to bring in new faculty members who are entrepreneurial and will develop research and eventually businesses that will hire people. And also along with that, we had about $150 million investment in the new USTAR building here on campus five or six years ago and USU had a new building at about $50 million. So the work behind that was really what we did to ensure the Legislature and to demonstrate to them that this was an appropriate use of state money.

Natalie Gochnour: It’s a great example and I would just add to that, Sheena, that when I think of the Utah economy, I think it’s just a really complex economy and how helpful it is to decisionmakers to know about it. So we employ economists who can help do that. Then I think of the Utah population. We have the most unique demographic profile in the country, it’s just without compare. And again, people need to understand age structure, fertility rates, school-age population, aging that’s happening, household formation and the like. We can help there; we employ people who have backgrounds in demography. When you have a Policy Institute, it’s not just about data and models, it’s about people.

Jim Wood is the expert in this community on housing, construction and real estate. He’s built his career around that, authored over 100 articles on the Utah economy. So it’s easy to compliment Jim because he’s sitting by me, but we have Pam Perlich, who has helped teach this state about the changing face of Utah and how we are becoming much more ethnically diverse. Juliette Tennert, who is a former state budget director, chief economist for Gov. Huntsman and Herbert, she’s joined our staff. She is an economist who manages our economic work. We have Dianne Meppen. Dianne Meppen is a 30-year veteran of the Dan Jones group and she oversees our survey research. And then we have someone like a Jennifer Robinson who has a strong background working with local government, brings a lot of institutional knowledge about the University of Utah. And so we have this terrific, talented team that we’re just going to roll out to serve this state.

Eccles School: That’s excellent, and I love the research that has previously been done under BEBR. I think that’s been incredibly impactful and I think so will the talent that you are bringing together as the Policy Institute launches and continues into the future. Looking at that talent and what you can do when you harness that, what do you hope the Policy Institute ends up accomplishing?

Natalie Gochnour: You know, it would be my hope that 20, 30, 40 years from now, a state legislature, a city council, mayors in this state, county commissioners, business leaders, that they know that on South Temple, there is an independent, trusted, very data-driven entity that can take complex issues, boil them down, convey findings, and help this state navigate the future. We like to use the tag “informed decisions.” So the Policy Institute helps decisionmakers make informed decisions. We don’t make those decisions; we produce a lot of data, we convene a lot of people, we share a lot of research that helps them understand what they need to do to keep this state prosperous. So I said a lot in that, but if I really try to just distill it, I’d say we want a prosperous future for this state, and it takes purposeful action through informed decisions to get there. Jim, would you add something to that?

Jim Wood: I don’t think I can add anything or improve that. That was a great summary.

Natalie Gochnour: Great.

Eccles School: Perfect. Well, is there anything else that you two would like to add or anything else I should be asking about?

Natalie Gochnour: I’d love to say something about our donor, Sheena.

Eccles School: Oh please, absolutely.

Natalie Gochnour: Kem Gardner has made a career out of not only business, but also civic life. He’s someone who has helped the Utah Symphony, someone who has given of his time to

[09:30] healthcare, someone who has given of his time to the United Way of Salt Lake. Kem is someone who not just gives of his resources, he’s been very successful in business, but gives of his elbow grease as I like to call it, time, energy. I was at a meet with him this morning at 7:30 in the morning. He doesn’t have to come to those, Jim, but there he was. So we are so honored to have Kem Gardner, Carolyn Gardner and their family step up in this big way and endow our institute and put us in a situation where we can really go out and serve this state.

And it’s not about Kem, it’s about the community. He makes that really clear to me. We have assembled a board of advisors that is just terrific. Scott Anderson is co-chairing it, CEO of Zions Bank, Gail Miller is the other co-chair, obviously with the Miller family, and we have a whole bunch of elected officials serving as ex officio roles, including the president of the Senate, the speaker of the house, Sen. Orrin Hatch is our senior senator and senior statesman in this state. And so, you’re just going to see some remarkable people coming together to see how we can make this institute something great. Jim and I intend to do our part to make it so.

Jim Wood: This is really an exciting opportunity. I just wish I had another 40 years to stand with this organization.

Eccles School: I think everyone is very lucky to have the two of you involved is so heavily with this institute. And I’m really excited to see what ends up coming from it and the great data that you provide to help make informed decisions here in the state of Utah.

Natalie Gochnour: Great, thank you Sheena.

Jim Wood: Thank you.

Eccles School: Thank you so much for joining me today. I’m Sheena McFarland, and this has been the Eccles School Podcast.

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