Rural County Grant Program Supports County Economic Development Destinies

Pete CodellaArticles, Center for Rural Development

The Business Services team, housed within the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), offers a unique program that empowers rural county governments to take responsibility for their economic development planning, projects, and activities.  

The Rural County Grant Program encourages counties of the third, fourth, fifth, or sixth class designations to apply for the grant to manage their unique economic development opportunities. The program addresses business recruitment, workforce training and development, infrastructure and capital facilities improvements, and other specific county needs.

“The Rural County Grant Program encourages local county governments to take control of their destiny by carefully selecting projects that deliver the most economic opportunity for their county,” said Ryan Starks, managing director of GOED’s Business Services team. 

Here are three examples of rural counties using the Rural County Grant Program funds to make a difference in the lives of residents.

Box Elder County

Box Elder County Commissioners, with the recommendations of the County Economic Development Board, utilized their $95,000 in grant funding to distribute sub-grants to businesses. It opened applications in January and February of 2021 and received 38 applications. Eight businesses were awarded sub-grants.

“The money was distributed mostly to manufacturing companies to help them purchase new equipment,” said Mitch Zundel, economic development director for Box Elder County. “Because of the new equipment, they either diversified into new avenues or did projects where they could continue to innovate and expand. Box Elder County and the recipients are very grateful for the Rural County Grant Program and the ability to get these projects off the ground.”  

San Juan County 

San Juan County directed its Rural County Grant Program grant money through its County Economic Development Board, using data to use the funding effectively.

“Our Board had good data on what would benefit the county and made the awards based on need, the number of jobs the grant might create, and the types of projects that would benefit our entire area,” said Stuart Smith, communication specialist for San Juan County Economic Development and Visitors Services.

Britt Barton, chairman of the Community Economic Development Board, commented on two healthcare organizations’ purchases with grant funding. “One was for equipment to do home dialysis, and the other was an oxygen generator that makes our area less dependent on the supply chain that starts in Grand Junction. These types of purchase elevate the quality of life for all of our residents.”

Wasatch County

According to Dallin Koecher, executive director of Heber Valley Tourism and Economic Development, the Rural County Grant Program helped two towns in Wasatch County accomplish two primary objectives centered around downtown revitalization and investing in research. 

“First, we wanted to help both Heber and Midway initiate downtown revitalization projects,” noted Koecher. Both cities were looking to create new economic growth in their respective downtown areas. Heber could pay for a study to create a Community Reinvestment Area to use tax increment financing to reshape and renew the downtown using Rural County Grant Program funds. 

In Midway, the town used the funds to focus on ways to enhance the walkability and charm of the downtown area. Working with city administrators and elected officials, Midway used the Rural County Grant funds to renovate two additional retail spaces on their town square. 

“Our second goal was to invest in research, data, and training to improve our economic development efforts,” said Koecher. He noted that good data could help the county make informed decisions and improve our community targeted areas that need it most.

“The Rural County Grant opened up many possibilities for Wasatch County to do economic development in a way that is best for us,” said Koecher. “When economic opportunities come to light in the community, it is great to know that we now have means to make these priorities happen.”

For additional information about the Rural County Grant Program, please refer to this one-page document for qualifications, county match requirements, and other important information.

Box Elder County

San Juan County

Mountain West Medical Supply of Blanding, Utah purchased an oxygen generator with the help of their grant from San Juan County’s County Economic Board.