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Think tank emerges in P.C.

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Government officials and policy wonks would unite in Park City, deliberating about the future of state governments around the nation as a local think tank hosts them at forums.

That is the vision of Jim Souby, himself a veteran of state-government work and a Beltway think tank. Souby, who is now the president and CEO of the Oquirrh Institute, plans to move the institute from the Salt Lake Valley to Park City, changing its name to the Park City Center for Public Policy as he does so.

The institute, which was launched in 2004, advances issues like education, health care and the environment, mostly dealing with state-level issues.

Recently, Souby secured a $10,000 grant from City Hall, which the Park City Council agreed to in an effort to lure the institute to the city. The grant is the latest in a series of deals that the local government has authorized as City Hall tries to diversify its economy from one almost exclusively reliant on the related industries of tourism and construction.

The City Council was happy that the institute was interested in Park City and did not debate the grant at length.

"Our goal is to be embedded in the community and engage, in one level, community issues," says Souby, whose resume includes a four-year appointment in state government in Alaska in the late 1970s and early 1980s and a 13-year run as the executive director of the Western Governors’ Association.

Souby, who is 60 years old, says the institute has not secured office space in Park City but he wants to move the operation to the city as early as late spring 2007. In early October, the City Council agreed to the $10,000 grant, following a recommendation from City Hall staffers that it is smart to give the institute the money in exchange for the group moving to Park City.

In a report submitted to Mayor Dana Williams and the City Council before the October meeting, Gary Hill, who directs City Hall’s budget, says the grant furthers the local government’s desire to boost Park City’s economy.

As part of the deal, the institute, which is a nonprofit and is nonpartisan, agreed to keep its headquarters in Park City for at least three years, organize conferences in the city, develop an internship program with Park City schools and allow at least four people from City Hall to attend institute conferences or forums without charge, according to Hill’s report.

‘Stimulation for people’

Park City in recent years has tried to attract a wider spectrum of businesses and events, particularly those that hold the potential of attracting conventioneers or other visitors during the spring and fall, when tourism typically dips compared to the busy ski season and the emerging summertime.

Williams says the potential of generating business is a key to City Hall’s interest in the institute. Meanwhile, he says, Parkites will likely be interested in the policy debates advanced by the institute.

"We tend to have a population that is pretty well educated, comparatively speaking," Williams says. "This just furthers that kind of stimulation for people."

He says the $10,000 grant is "minimal in my opinion," that the institute would remain close to Salt Lake City International Airport and that Park City is seen as a "very small town with a very global appeal."

The institute is considering its conference schedule through 2009, starting with what is described as an oil-shale meeting in 2007. Souby says the conference is not finalized but says that people could debate the potential of the fuel and the possible environmental consequences.

According to a forecast submitted to City Hall, the institute projects that 200 people could participate in an oil-shale conference. That would pump $80,000 into Park City’s economy, including $50,000 to the lodging industry, the forecast projects. Up to 350 people are predicted to attend the conferences, topping out during a summer meeting in 2009, when the gathering could generate $157,500 for the lodging and restaurant industries.

Souby expects to schedule at least two major conferences in Park City each year.

The institute’s thinkers take their research to a board of trustees and then design a model to further a policy. The institute on its World Wide Web site touts a ‘Keeping the Promise’ study, which it says probes the quality of teachers in 13 states, and an investigation of growth in Utah.

"We found that very little follow-up or mentoring is happening," Souby says about the teacher study, labeling the system a, "stand-alone teacher-preparation process."

He describes another program in which the institute plans to work with environmentalists and electric utilities to figure out how to introduce more efficient technology more quickly.

Souby acknowledges that the institute must learn more about issues that Park City faces but expects that the staffers could someday provide models for Park City’s growth based on other communities.

"We’re a much more practical, experienced group," he says.


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