Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox, legislators and rural stakeholders met last week to discuss challenges and opportunities in rural Utah. During the 25K Rural Legislative Retreat, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute presented an analysis of county strategic economic development plans in the state of Utah. The analysis was commissioned earlier this year by the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED).
The analysis presented opportunities for strategic growth and county improvements as well as recommendations for future rural economic development planning. It highlighted county strengths, weaknesses, performance measures, short-term (one year) and long-term (five to 10 years) strategies, as well as the county’s preferred method of state support. Twenty-four of 25 rural Utah counties submitted information to analyze.
Each economic development plan identified overall goals including specific actions and requests for state assistance. Some consistent themes emerged across county lines including:
- Expanding existing industries
- Economic development capacity building
- Tourism and recreation infrastructure
- Transportation access
- Community stability
- Incentive update
- GOED’s Business Expansion and Retention Program
Overall self-identified goals revolved around broader themes and ideas and included expanding existing industries, diversifying the local economy, investing in infrastructure, expanding education programs that will develop a strong workforce and further increase tourism.
Self-identified strengths shared by multiple counties included tourism, transportation access, quality of life, fiber network and access to education. Economic weaknesses included declining population, economic growth, poor talent retention and low retail activity.
Goals included inter-government and business relationships expansion and workforce development. Future investment in tourism infrastructure and year-round tourist destinations were also long-term goals. To support these goals, there were requests for additional state funding assistance and expanded incentive programs as well as technical assistance.
The Rural Legislative Retreat was part of the Governor’s 25K Jobs by 2020 to showcase the county’s strategies for job creation. The goal is to create 25,000 jobs in Utah’s 25 rural counties by 2020.
Each county is unique and faces its own set of challenges. Rural legislators, economic development directors, members of the Governor’s Rural Partnership Board and staff from GOED, among others, participated in the meetings.
The Gardner Institute’s full analysis of Utah rural county’s economic development plans is available here.