Tom Clyde: Left off the Forbes 400 again
If you haven’t been outside hiking, biking, driving or just gawking, you have missed one of the most beautiful falls I can remember. The expectations were low because of the drought conditions. The aspen leaves around my house were dried out and brittle as potato chips in July. Then that big rain in August brought things back to life (especially the thistles — what a year it’s been for raising thistles). Then everything turned at the same time. It was a great ending to a weird summer.
I’ve been soaking it in on every level, from the big open vistas to looking at the variations in color in individual leaves on the ground. The leaves on a single aspen tree will have a range of color from deep gold to a copper color, and then each leaf has internal variations. Just beautiful.
Forbes Magazine has published its annual list of the 400 wealthiest Americans. Why they chose 400 instead of a more round-numberish 500 is a mystery. But so is Stephen Forbes, who owns the magazine. I’m sure he has a reason. To make the cut this year, the plutocrats had to have a net worth of $3.9 billion. I didn’t make it. Apparently the people at Forbes and I have a disagreement on the value of my fleet of mostly-running antique tractors. The 1943 Farmall M with optional fenders and aftermarket three-point hitch ought to have pushed me up there. Fairly valued, I think — no, I’m still well short of making the cut.
Also failing to make the cut was Donald Trump. He dropped off the list for the first time in many years. Of course he’s demanded a recount and an audit by the Cyber Ninjas to look for traces of bamboo in the list, which is rigged anyway. I suspect that most people on the list would prefer not to have their names published and attention called to them. But as we all know, wealth and grace don’t always come in the same container.
The website from Forbes has the list searchable in a number of ways. I was a little surprised to see that there are three Utahns on the list. They are Matthew Prince at $4.7 billion in the cybersecurity industry, Scott Watterson at $3.7 billion from Ikon Fitness equipment (there’s probably laundry drying on one of his machines in your basement right now), and Gail Miller at $3.2 billion in the car dealership business. They published the list before the Miller family announced the sale of the dealerships for $3.2 billion, and there are lots of other assets there. The Forbes numbers are estimates. Billionaires don’t have a reporting requirement.
That seemed like a lot for a state as small as Utah, and those three are people who made the money on their own rather than dynastic wealth like the Walton or Mars families who are a big share of the list. Colorado is home to seven of the top 400, Montana three, and Idaho one. Wyoming, with the smallest population of any state, has four residents on the Forbes list. Wyoming has no state income tax, so there is a good reason to be a Wyoming resident if you are raking it in, in addition to being able to look at the Tetons every morning. They aren’t living in Rock Springs.
Missing from the list were most of the Southern states and the Great Plains. Apparently billionaires aren’t flocking to Fargo, North Dakota, or anywhere in Mississippi or Alabama. Thirty-seven states were represented on the list with the obvious concentrations in the high-population states. The Mountain West is over-represented relative to its population, which says something about the quality of life here. This isn’t where the wealth came from; it’s where it has deliberately chosen to park. It might also have something to do with our housing market being as screwy as it is.
There wasn’t a way to search the list to see how many of the top 400 have houses in Park City. I don’t really keep track of that end of the real estate market, but did recognize a few family names as I scanned down the Forbes list. That’s certainly not something I would have expected looking at Park City 60 years ago when most of Main Street was boarded up and tipping over.
The Forbes 400 list is just that, 400 people or families. That’s the top of the top in terms of wealth. An interesting, if small, sample. If their patterns are an indication of what the other super rich are doing, the next 2,500 or 10,000 on the list are probably moving to the same places or spending on similar things. Like houses in Summit County. Apparently not enough of them are investing in antique farm machinery to have improved my position by much, but you never know. Maybe once they get settled into their new houses in the wide open spaces, the need for an antique tractor or two will become obvious.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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