Heber wants to diversify its economy
August 24, 2010
Wasatch County has a new director of tourism and economic development and he’d like to see more high-tech companies moving to the Heber Valley.
Luke Peterson, originally from Payson, moved to the Wasatch Back from Rhode Island where he worked as a municipal development director. He is a graduate of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
His first order of business since starting in July has been surveying residents as to what kind of economic growth they’d like to see in the area. He said there is a desire to preserve the natural beauty and agricultural dimension of the valley as it grows.
"We want to create jobs and opportunities, but not at the cost of the quality of life and beautiful setting we have here," he explained.
Before the recession, the second source of jobs after tourism was residential development and construction.
"That’s not a sustainable business sector. We need to diversify our economy. We need businesses that bring clean, high-paying jobs," he said.
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That means high-tech. Peterson said he wants to attract firms doing work like digital media, film production and software development. He said the Heber Valley would be an ideal place to host a company headquarters or research & development office.
He said the growth of these kinds of businesses would still allow the preservation of open space and the rural character of the county.
The southern end of the valley and western side of Heber City has seen the growth of warehouses, manufacturers and other industrial businesses. The north and west ends of the valley have room for growth, and high-tech businesses would be a good fit there, he said.
"We’d like to help the Utah Valley University campus grow and spin off innovations and enterprises from both students and faculty," he said.
Even though Heber is further from Salt Lake City than the Park City area, Peterson believes it’s not too much further to enjoy the same benefits.
"If you’re in Park City or Heber you’ve accepted you’ve got a bit of a commute it’s only 15 more minutes to the airport," he said.
Peterson also pointed out the Heber airport is equipped to handle corporate jets.
Heber is not much further from Provo or Salt Lake City than the Houston suburbs are from their metropolitan hub, he said.
"People used to doing business in the West are used to the commute," he added.
And the Heber Valley has what other areas do not: quality of life. Communities invest millions trying to provide that, he said, adding, "We have a tremendous advantage."
As for promoting tourism, Peterson said he believes they just need to continue getting the word out about what they have to offer.
"In some ways, we’re a very different place from Park City. It has had years of marketing itself as a tourist destination; we’re just getting started," he said. "We’ve been in Park City’s shadow for a long time."
In winter, the valley has snowmobiling and Soldier Hollow plus close proximity to Sundance and Deer Valley Resorts. In summer, it has fly fishing rivers, three reservoirs and close access to both the Wasatch and Uinta mountain ranges.
The biggest draw in summer, however, is golf, Peterson said.
There are eight courses in the county and most of them are open to the public. Red Ledges was recently honored by a publication as the No. 1 new course in America, he said.
"We want people to come here to come here, and not just happen upon it," he added.
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