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Sandy Journal

Economic lessons learned over the past 150 years

Oct 09, 2023 03:58PM ● By Robert Spendlove, Zions Bank senior economist

One of the worst economic crises in U.S. history began in September 1873, just a month before Zions Bank opened for business. When banking institution Jay Cook & Company, which had invested heavily in the railroad, failed, it set off a wave of panic across the United States.

Back in the Utah Territory, pioneer leader Brigham Young had a few months earlier called together a group of prominent residents to form a savings bank. Concerned about the economic climate, he felt it more important than ever to create a safe place for people to save their money.

Zion’s Savings Bank and Trust Company, its name eventually shortened to Zions Bank, opened for business on Oct. 1, 1873. Over the next 150 years, the tiny, one-room pioneer bank would evolve and grow along with the surrounding economy of the Intermountain West. 

As the oldest bank headquartered in the Intermountain West, Zions Bank’s 150-year history highlights several important economic lessons:

Economic ups and downs are inevitable. Periods of contraction and expansion are a normal part of the economic cycle. Zions Bank opened for business during the infamous Panic of 1873, and over the next 150 years, would help Utahns weather a series of economic booms and busts, from The Great Depression to the pandemic-induced recession in 2020. We don’t know when the next recession will come, but history tells us there will be peaks and valleys ahead and we should prepare accordingly.

The economic strides we make now will ripple into the future. In the late 1800s, financial assistance from Zions Bank helped launch railroad, power and mining companies that developed the Intermountain West. The investments and advancements we make in our economy today will impact the quality of life for future generations of Utahns.

Strong economies are built on strong communities. When banking legend Roy Simmons led Zions Bank through a period of statewide expansion in the late 1900s, he emphasized local control and community involvement. In the decades since, our bankers have had a front-row seat in the economic development of these distinctive communities, including Utah County's emergence as a technology hub and Washington County’s incredible growth in tourism and outdoor recreation. The unique strengths of the economically diverse communities across Utah contribute to our collective success as a top-ranked state for economic vitality and business growth.

Small businesses are the backbone of the economy. Over many decades, Zions has helped thousands of small businesses get the capital they need to grow and create jobs. These scrappy small businesses make up 99.3% of Utah companies and employ nearly half the state’s workforce. They led the economic recovery of the Covid pandemic and will continue to power our economy into the future.

Economic inclusion drives growth and innovation. Some of Zions Bank’s first customers were women, at a time when women were generally not allowed to open or control bank accounts without the consent of their husbands. These early customers contributed to the strength and stability of the bank, and by extension, the economy. As our state expands economic opportunity to more people, particularly underserved groups, we will continue to unlock untapped potential in our economy.

It's remarkable to consider Utah’s transformation over the last century and a half from an agrarian society of farms and rudimentary business to our modern, diversified economy. As we look to the next 150 years, it’s exciting to think about the changes and growth that might take place. λ