Utah governor reveals secret to scoring best state ranking two years in a row

Utah repeated as No. 1 in US News & World Report’s Best States rankings for 2024

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox says his state's "unique" qualities helped it come in at the top spot on U.S. News & World Report's "Best States" survey for the second year in a row.

Utah repeated as the No. 1 state in America in U.S. News & World Report’s Best States rankings for 2024, thanks in part to its consistency.

"The American Dream is alive and well," Cox said in response to the report at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute, where he also spotlighted his "Disagree Better" initiative encouraging bipartisanship among the nation's governors.

"One of the things that makes Utah special is that we lead the nation in upward mobility and social capital, connectedness, that we lead the nation every year in service and charitable giving, and that we don't rely on government to solve all of our problems," Cox told Fox News Digital. "I think that the conservative policies that we've championed have made us not just the best economy in the country, but also, you know, we're No. 2 in education." 


Utah governor claps his hands

Gov. Spencer Cox applauds after signing two social media regulation bills during a ceremony at the Capitol building in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 23, 2023. (Trent Nelson/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

The U.S. News project analyzed more than 70 metrics across eight categories, including fiscal stability, health care, infrastructure and crime and corrections. Utah performed the best in education (No. 2), economy (No. 3) and infrastructure (No. 3). The Beehive State also moved up year over year in several categories, including crime and corrections (+6) and opportunity (+2). 

Natural environment was the only category where Utah – known for its geographical diversity, national parks and skiing and snowboarding resorts – finished in the bottom half of the list, at No. 46. The report said the category reflected metrics like pollution threats and air and water quality.

In January 2023, Cox signed the Utah Fits All Scholarship, a multi-use scholarship program for K-12 students in which participants can receive an education spending account of up to $8,000 to pay for education-related items, including textbooks, tutors and private school tuition.

"We've been able to get more funding for education, but also, we passed school choice to empower parents," Cox said. "We've given our teachers the largest raises in our state's history and given families more choices to be able to use taxpayer dollars to send their kids wherever they want to go. And so, again, not having it be a zero-sum game, finding solutions that benefit everyone and smaller government... I think those are the things that keep Utah No. 1."

Utah has come out on top in other recent stats. Provo, Utah, claimed the top spot among 20 cities where young adults make up the largest percentage of homeowners, according to research from MoneyGeek. In the city, home to Brigham Young University, people under 25 make up roughly 39% of homeowners. And young adults own more homes than those ages 25-44, 44-65 or over 65, according to the report.

"We're the youngest state in the nation," Cox said. "We believe in families, and we think having kids is a great thing and really important. But also, we're working hard. The price of housing has been going up, and we want kids to be able to own homes. And I'm grateful we have places like Provo that are leading there." 

But, he said, they "still have work to do," noting the state passed "the most aggressive starter home package in the country." 

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox at the Reagan Institute.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox speaks at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute on May 9, 2024. (Fox News Digital)


"We need to build 35,000 starter homes over the course of the next five years to keep the American Dream alive," Cox said. "And so we're dedicated to that. I believe it's immoral to not have homeownership and the American Dream, the ability to buy a home and start a family as part of, again, the fabric of our society."

Californians, in particular, have been migrating to Utah in recent years — nearly 19,000 in 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. 

"I think there's lots of reasons," Cox said of Californians coming to Utah. "Again, I think we have a very strong economy. For sure. I think we're much less regulated. I do think that these are the laboratories of democracy. California's chosen a very different path, you know, a very progressive path. And, and I think it shows it's not working as more and more people are leaving California. And I think what we're doing in Utah is working, and that's attracting people from California and elsewhere."

Cox said Utah's issues now were "growth related" from people flooding into the state.

"People always ask me, how are you going to stop that from happening? Well, I can't. I want us to be the No. 1 state," he said.

Fox News' Sean Hannity confronted California Gov. Gavin Newsom last June about his state's population exodus. California lost 117,552 people between Jan. 1, 2021 and Jan. 1, 2022, according to the state's Department of Finance, dropping its population down to where it was in 2016.

Welcome to Utah sign on Utah-Arizona border.

Welcome to Utah sign on Utah-Arizona border. (Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Newsom highlighted his state's economic outlook and pointed to red states that lost residents.

"Look at the facts," Newsom said. "We’re the fourth-largest economy in the world. This belies all of that rhetoric, everything you just said. You didn’t talk about all those red states that have opposite policies that you embrace. Something is clearly not working right in those states… Mississippi, Louisiana, West Virginia that all had higher population loss."

California’s population increased by 67,000 people last year to 39,128,162, according to recent data released by the California Department of Finance (DOF), marking the first year since 2020 that the state has seen a net increase.

To keep up with the influx of people and retain a high quality of life, Cox said Utah has to invest in infrastructure.

"I hope that other states will copy what we're doing so that their residents don't feel like they need to leave, that they'll want to stay because they're doing, they're deregulating and adopting these conservative values that have made Utah such an attractive place," he said.

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