Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox promotes statewide jobs initiative in Summit County
The goal is to create 25,000 jobs in rural areas within four years
Eileen Dunn was encouraged as she looked around the gymnasium at North Summit High School at all the organizations — mostly from the Wasatch Front — that had traveled to Coalville to lend their support to Summit County businesses.
A sustained effort with the help of everyone in the room, she thought, could really make a difference.
On Tuesday, July 18, business organizations and political officials stopped in Summit County as part of a kick-off tour for Gov. Gary Herbert’s initiative to create 25,000 jobs in Utah’s rural counties within the next four years. The mission was to introduce the effort to local businesses and to begin forging the types of partnerships between them and organizations like the Economic Development Corporation of Utah and the Utah Small Business Development Centers Network that could ultimately make the initiative successful.
Dunn, for one, walked away impressed. She’s the owner of Done to Your Taste Catering in Kamas and is also the founding chair of the recently formed Kamas Valley Business Association. She said it was enlightening to discover how many resources are available to small businesses and encouraging to see organizations turn their attention to rural areas like eastern Summit County.
“There is so much knowledge out there,” she said. “The state and the chambers (of commerce) and everybody wants to help all these businesses be successful. It’s really nice to see this initiative. It was a great, positive experience.”
The effort comes amid a boom time for Utah’s economy that has seen it morph into one of the nation’s strongest. Accolades touting the state’s success have poured in seemingly every other week in recent months, and Utah’s burgeoning tech sector has developed enough clout to earn the nickname Silicon Slopes.
But the prosperity hasn’t trickled into every corner of the state. Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the top political figure in attendance Tuesday, said there’s a divide between the performance of counties along the Wasatch Front and those everywhere else. Seeing the disparity, Herbert challenged businesses in his State of the State Address in January to do something about it.
“The governor said, ‘I want to make sure we’re doing more for rural Utah,’” Cox said. “Then he turned to me and said, ‘I need your help to do this.’”
Cox, who hails from rural Utah himself and began his political career in Sanpete County, was eager to spearhead the effort. Summit County was the fourth stop on the tour — which is scheduled to run through September and hit every rural county in the state — and he was encouraged by what he’d seen so far.
Like Dunn, he said the opportunity for small businesses to take advantage of the state’s resources is exciting. But it’s not enough to create 25,000 jobs. Even more important to the long-term success of the initiative is finding ways for companies throughout Utah to tap into the plentiful workforce in rural counties. They can do that by expanding or relocating their operations to rural areas — which are often cheaper than the Wasatch Front — or by hiring employees who telecommute to work.
“The biggest problem we have on the Wasatch Front right now is that we have more jobs than people,” he said. “The biggest problem in rural Utah is we have more people than jobs. So we’re talking to employers on the Wasatch Front and saying, ‘Ask yourselves: Do these jobs have to be here? If not, could they be in these other places.”
Jeff Jones, economic development director for Summit County, said that if the initiative’s goal is met, Summit County will be a major reason why. His projections indicate the county will generate about 4,000 jobs over the next four years, and the state’s renewed focus on economic growth in rural areas could boost that figure.
“We’re doing our fair share when it comes to that (25,000 jobs) target,” he said Tuesday in Coalville. “And events like this help.”
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