UTAH (ABC4) – It’s no secret that Utah is growing, and many say that Californians are to blame. According to data from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, our state saw a population growth rate of 1.8% between 2020 and 2021, which is the highest since 2017. This averages out to about 160 residents per day, Emily Harris, the Gardner Institute’s senior demographer, said in a press statement.
According to a June 2021 report published by Harris, California is bringing the most domestic in-migrants to Utah, accounting for a whopping 16.6%. Dave Anderton, communications director at the Salt Lake Board of Realtors, notes that there are only about seven states Californians and New Yorkers are consistently choosing to move to, and one of them is Utah.
But why are so many migrating to Utah from sunny California? Some of the reasons are different than what you might expect.
Let’s start with the reasons why people are leaving California. According to a January 26 article in TheWrap, Diane Haithman reported that top executives like Ryan Kavanaugh, who founded video sharing app, Triller, Elon Musk, and more are moving away from the state. In her article, Haithman cites issues like high crime, increasing rates of homelessness, and exorbitant taxes as reasons why these Californian big-shots are moving away.
“High taxes, homelessness, and crime were the top three reasons. There are people leaving Beverly Hills. We’re talking middle class, upper class people that just want out of California. The roads are falling apart, the school system is a mess, the taxes are outrageous,” Anderton says, referencing a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that also draws information from Haithman’s reporting.
And while this migration was happening before COVID – the data referenced in Harris’s report is from 2014 – 2018 – the pandemic certainly prompted even more moves.
According to Hannah Cutler, Utah’s Coldwell Banker Realty district manager, after many companies that went remote during the pandemic decided to stay that way to cut down on costs, employees were no longer geographically bound.
“It’s allowing people to stay in their jobs and stay with their incomes, but they don’t have to live near their jobs anymore. They can move wherever they want,” she says.
So, what does Utah have to offer that California doesn’t? Many things, it turns out.
It won’t surprise any Utahn to know that outdoor access is at the top of the list for many in-migrants. As social distancing during the pandemic prompted many to explore outdoor hobbies, people began to look for places with access that is both plentiful and convenient.
“A lot of people choose Utah because we have such great proximity to recreation and the mountains,” Cutler says. “There’s not very many states where you can have four climates within a four hour drive. A lot of people from places like back East and California, they want to get out of the big cities and get somewhere where they can live a more healthy lifestyle.”
Another big draw of Utah is the health of our economy, Cutler and Anderton agree. The increasing amount of career-oriented jobs – like those offered by the many tech companies in Utah’s Silicon Slopes region – are also an incentive for professionals to seriously consider a move to the Wasatch Front.
And in addition to the jobs, taxes in Utah are also a great deal lower than in places like California, which is attractive to those looking to move.
“[People] are looking at states that are well run, that have lower taxes,” Anderton says. “[California’s] property taxes are five times higher than here in Utah.”
Taxes and jobs aren’t the only fiscal reasons why a move to Utah might be prudent for coastal dwellers, either. Although it’s no secret that Utah home prices have skyrocketed in the past few years – 22.7% between October of 2020 and 2021, to be exact, according to data collected by the Utah Association of Realtors – and Utahns regularly gawk at exorbitant house prices in the state, Californians can get a lot more bang for their buck in the Beehive State.
“People can sell a very small home in California or back East and make a lot of money and come here and buy a much larger, much nicer home,” Cutler says. “In our real estate market, even with the price increases that we’ve had, coming from those locales, they can buy a lot of house when they move here.”
And indeed, while the average home price in Utah is about $520,000, the average in California is much higher, resting at about $734,600, with values reaching averages of nearly $1 million in more popular locations, like Los Angeles.
“There’s a lot of people moving in, so it is changing the makeup of our state,” Anderton says. “If you talk to demographers, we’re going to add 2 million more people to the Wasatch Front in the next 30 years. So it’s going to change what Utah looks like, and we’re already feeling it right now.”
Salt Lake City has been lovingly and jokingly nicknamed ‘Was Angeles’ due to the influx of Californians and the growing nature of our city. But even as our demographic continues to change, we can hope that some of the things we love about Utah – which also happen to be some of the reasons newcomers are here to stay – won’t change with the Californian tide.