The biggest concern, perennially, in Sanpete County is the economy and jobs. But the latest numbers from the Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) suggest Sanpete County, with its proximity to the Wasatch Front, and the largest population between U.S. 6 and Cedar City, might be turning a corner.

The most important need of Sanpete families is a job, ideally a stable, good-paying job within a reasonable commuting distance. The DWS numbers suggest we might be getting more such jobs.

Currently, the county has about 7,700 jobs. That’s up 314 jobs from a year ago. That jobs number is the biggest of any county in the Six-County Area. Over the past two years, in percentage terms, we’ve had greater job growth than in Utah as a whole. And Utah has one of the most robust state economies in the nation.

The county still has a problem regarding income. The most recent figures we could find, which were for 2013, showed per-capita income in Sanpete County at $24,738. That made us one of the poorest counties in the state. In Utah as a whole, per capita income for 2013 was $36,630. In the United States as a whole, it was $44,765.

Nonetheless, DWS reported that between third-quarter 2015 and third-quarter 2016, job income in the county rose 4 percent. That’s progress. We’ll take it.

What’s making the difference? Why is Sanpete County growing? A key factor appears to be enrollment growth at Snow College, which is creating jobs in teaching and support services. We support continued growth at the college, even if it creates “growing pains” within the Ephraim community.

Our larger private employers—Norbest, CentraCom, Freedom Innovations and ACT—continue to expand markets for their products and services beyond county and state borders. That creates jobs.

Still, a large source of jobs in the county is small businesses employing 3, 5, 10, maybe 20 workers. We need to encourage startups, especially companies outside the services industry.

A great example is Purkey’s of Manti, which manufactures electronic machines used in the trucking industry, such as a machine to charge the batteries on lift gates, the equipment at the back of trucks used to unload freight.

Another standout is A.W. Carter Furniture of Mt. Pleasant, which makes high-end custom furniture, particularly for LDS temples. Still another is Fortress Clothing, also of Mt. Pleasant, which makes a “hybrid hoodie” designed for workers who must work in extremely cold temperatures.

We support state government incentives that help such businesses get off the ground, such as the Fast Track grants of up to $50,000 to companies for capital investment.

As we celebrate good economic numbers and growing businesses, we can never forget the most fundamental, if subtle, determinant of economic prosperity.

It’s education. If local students don’t graduate with reading and math skills, if they don’t go on for at least two years of post-high school education, they won’t be able to do the jobs in 21st Century economy. And without workers to do jobs, the jobs won’t come here.

With that in mind, we commend the recent Utah Legislature for its generous support of public education and for continuing to expand the Snow College budget.

A lot of inputs go into economic growth. When we look around, we see many of those inputs right here in Sanpete County.