Proposal for rural economic development could give Summit County access to $1M in grants annually
A proposed program aimed at rural economic development could put as much as $1 million annually into the hands of Summit County grant recipients.
S.B. 95 would establish the Rural County Grant Program, which would offer an annual $200,000 block grant to all but six of the state’s counties, and another $800,000 annually in grant opportunities.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, characterized it as a change in philosophy to a “bottom-up” approach that he said would put money in the hands of rural entrepreneurs faster.
Its $10 million price tag represents a cost savings to the state, according to the bill, as it does away with more than $14.5 million in state funding that was used for the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative.
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It also phases out enterprise zone grants, which have been used in Summit County, including in the recent expansion of East Side adventure-trailer manufacturer Escapod.
An enterprise zone is an official designation created by a municipality in which businesses can earn tax credits by creating well-paying jobs – especially related to agriculture – or investing in and renovating vacant buildings.
Jeff Jones, Summit County’s economic development director, called the bill a prudent approach, and lauded changes to the bill that would phase out the enterprise zones over three years to allow a smoother transition.
Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, whose district covers a wide swath of rural land, including in Summit County, said he supports the bill.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Wilde said. “I think a lot of times a lot of that money is spent down on the Wasatch Front and not much has been spent elsewhere. It’s a good opportunity for this to be spent elsewhere.”
The bill passed out of the Senate Economic Development and Workforce Services Committee last week and as of Tuesday morning was ready for its second reading in the Senate.
If it were to become law, each county in Utah that is classified as third-class or smaller would be eligible for $200,000 annually if it creates a community economic development advisory board. Counties would then have access to a second pool of money that would award grants up to $800,000. Counties would be subject to a matching requirement that is more significant for larger counties.
Third-class counties, like Summit County, would have to match 40% of the grants, while sixth-class counties, like Daggett County, would have to match 10%. First- and second-class counties, like Salt Lake and Utah counties, are excluded.
Sandall said the programs that this bill would replace, including the enterprise zones and the Rural Fast Track program, represented a top-down approach that put hurdles in the way of development.
He recalled an entrepreneur in Box Elder County that sought a $50,000 rural fast track grant for a piece of equipment. The grant, Sandall said, took too long to come through.
The bill lists the program’s goals as business recruitment, development and expansion; workforce training and development; and infrastructure and capital facilities improvements for business development. Sandall added that economic development should be about job creation.
He said a review of the enterprise zone grants showed that between 2016 and 2018, the program had created 252 jobs with $25 million in expenditures.
He characterized the enterprise zone grants as a “one-size-fits all, post-production” program that doesn’t work in all cases.
“This is a bottom-up approach to economic development that we haven’t seen in the past,” Sandall said.
The USTAR program originated in 2006 as a mechanism to invest in and commercialize technology developed at Utah universities but was largely scrapped in 2019 by a bill sponsored by Sandall and Rep. Tim Quinn, who represents Park City.
Jones cautions that there are many steps the county would have to accomplish before accessing the new funding, including creating the advisory board, updating the county’s economic development strategies, establishing a ranking system and budgeting money to match the funds.
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