The search is on for policy and technology innovation proposals with the potential to foster access to and support for a thriving middle class in Utah — and the best ideas may be eligible for up to $1 million in funding.
University of Utah President Ruth V. Watkins and Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox, co-chairs of the statewide American Dream Ideas Challenge, officially launched the initiative during a press conference on Thursday.
The challenge aims to find, fund and develop ideas capable of sustainably increasing net income by 10 percent for 10,000 of the state’s middle-class families by 2020. Idea submissions will be accepted through noon on Aug. 30 at americandream.utah.edu.
“We are seeking innovative ideas that will help families and communities not only survive, but thrive,” said Courtney McBeth, project director.
The University of Utah is one of four higher education institutions selected by Schmidt Futures to serve as anchors in The Alliance for the American Dream. Each is taking a unique approach to achieving Schmidt Future’s goal of creating pathways to a healthier and more robust middle class.
“When Schmidt Futures selected the University of Utah as a member of The Alliance for the American Dream, it specifically noted our state’s energized and giving population, the innovative mindset we share and our willingness to pilot and collaborate on new policies and ideas,” Watkins said. “Schmidt Futures told us they valued our unique community-based approach to running this Ideas Challenge, with its focus on engaging a broad range of perspectives and voices from across the state.
“Schmidt also noted that, as the state’s flagship university, we are uniquely positioned to join with government, business and community partners as well as our peer institutions throughout the state to seek and find ways to strengthen access to and stability of the middle class in Utah,” Watkins said.
The challenge has established a multi-round evaluation process for submissions. In the first round, a selection committee will identify the 10 best proposals and each will receive up to $10,000 to use for further refinement. In the second round, the Community Advisory Board will select three proposals, each eligible for an additional $30,000 in development funds. Those ideas then will be forwarded for consideration at the national level, vying for up to $1 million in funding from Schmidt Futures.
Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox said Utah has the best economy in the country and “is still growing thanks to our amazing business leaders, entrepreneurs and dedicated workforce.
“But more can be done to ensure all Utahns benefit from the positive growth the state has enjoyed — particularly in our rural areas,” Cox said. “There are still too many Utah families who, despite working hard at one job — or often multiple jobs — still struggle and are one unexpected bill away from financial instability.”
The institutions that provided effective infrastructures of opportunity, social cohesion and community stability in the post-World War II era are largely still in place; however, the structures, conditions and communities they were designed to support have dramatically changed, said Pam Perlich, director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and a member of the American Dream Ideas Challenge advisory board.
“They no longer work for a growing share of individuals, families and communities who face an entire constellation of cost and economic pressures that create barriers to prosperity, especially for young families,” Perlich said. “Our charge is to design and build modified or completely new infrastructures of opportunity to open avenues for all. We are focusing on pathways for economic stability, educational success and upward mobility.”