Cox to promote ’25K Rural Jobs’ initiative in Sanpete on Oct. 5
By Suzanne Dean
Sept. 21, 2017
EPHRAIM—Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox will visit Sanpete County early next month as part of what is being called the “25K Jobs Launch Tour” promoting an effort to bring 25,000 jobs to nonmetropolitan Utah in the next four years.
The tour is essentially the marketing piece for a program Gov. Gary Herbert mentioned in his 2016 State of the State Address, presented in more detail in his 2017 State of the State, and got down to brass tacks about at the 30th Utah Rural Summit in Cedar City Aug. 3.
Cox and his entourage will roll into Ephraim with an orange and blue trailer containing the words “25K jobs in 25 counties” on the side. The trailer carries materials for booths that are set up and literature that is passed out at each stop.
Since May, Cox has been to several of the 25 counties that are the focus of the jobs effort. (The target counties include all counties except Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber).
The Sanpete stop will be Thursday, Oct. 5 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at Founders Hall in the Noyes Building at Snow College. Business owners, public officials and anyone with an interest is invited.
The event will start with a welcome from one of the Sanpete County commissioners, followed by a presentation by Derek Miller, CEO of World Trade Center Utah, a nonprofit organization that helps Utah companies market products abroad.
Miller will introduce Lt. Gov. Cox, who will speak briefly, followed by lunch and opportunities to visit booths and network with other attendees.
In the last couple of years, Utah has been heralded as one of the fastest growing states in the nation. On several indices, the state has been No. 1.
In February, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ranked Utah No. 1 for private job growth with 3.5 percent more jobs than a year earlier. In the same ranking, the state was No. 2 for total job growth (including the public sector) at 3.3 percent.
In both 2015 and 2016, Utah County had the second highest job growth rate among 343 high-population counties nationwide.. In 2015, the number of jobs in Utah County went up 6.7 percent from the previous year, while in 2016, jobs increased 6.8 percent.
Meanwhile, in February, 2017, Utah’s unemployment rate was seventh lowest in the nation at 3.1 percent, compared to 4.7 percent in the nation as a whole.
But off the Wasatch Front, many areas are not sharing fully in the state’s success. “It is a tale of two Utahs,” Natalie Gouchnour, who was an aide to former Gov. Michael Leavitt and who now heads the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah, told the Rural Summit, a gathering of people from the public and private sectors concerned about the quality of rural life in the state.
Eleven Utah counties had fewer jobs in 2016 than before the recession started in 2007, she said. In several counties, the unemployment rate is double the state rate. Some of the counties with high unemployment are experiencing out-migration. (See accompanying graphic.)
Compared to other rural counties in south-central Utah, the Sanpete County economy is above average. Jobs are up 4 percent overall since the recession, although that hardly holds a candle to the nearly 16 percent job growth along the Wasatch Front.
The county has had a couple of good years recently. From March 2014 to March 2016, the county had job growth of 3 to 4 percent compared to the preceding year, which was on a par with Salt Lake and Davis County for those years.
The county’s unemployment rate is above the state rate, but both the county and state rate are substantially below the national rate, which ranged from 4.4 to 4.7 percent.
“When the state overall is doing well, Sanpete does pretty well,” said Kevin Christensen, director of economic development for the county. “But when you hit that recessionary time, Sanpete tends to take a bigger hit. We’re less stable than the Wasatch Front.”
Last January, as he embarked on his second full term, Gov. Herbert told the Utah Legislature, “Tonight I would like us to unite behind the goal of creating 25,000 new jobs in the counties off the Wasatch Front in the next four years.
“Reaching that goal will require unprecedented partnerships to grow and diversify the economy of Utah. To that end, I will work with Lt. Gov. (Spencer) Cox and the Rural Partnership Board, the private sector, and you, the Legislature, to ensure that all Utahns have the same opportunity.”
(The Rural Partnership Board is an advisory panel to rural programs in the Governors Office of Economic Development (GOED).)
But by August, the governor expressed frustration at the slow progress toward the 25,000 jobs goal.
“I’m not as happy as I think I should be about this effort,” he told the Rural Summit. “I feel like we have had great discussions, but we are at the crossroads where we actually have to do something….It’s time for action. The time for talking has passed.”
Both the governor and Lt. Gov. Cox, who also addressed the summit, said that although the state has many resources to help counties and communities, the primary responsibility for job growth rests with local officials and entrepreneurs.
“What are the things that are inhibiting your ability to grow?” the governor asked the Rural Summit participants. “What are the factors slowing or stopping you…stifling your ability to grow your economy in your own backyard?
And, the governor wanted to know, what plans do local officials have to overcome those barriers?
At the Rural Summit, Gov. Herbert asked local officials to come up with answers to his questions. A GOED spokeswoman said the state is asking counties and communities for concrete plans by the end of 2017.
As for Sanpete County, Christensen cited five things that he believes would help the county long-term:
- Add more passing lanes to S.R. 132 to provide for faster truck travel to the I-15 entrance and exit in Nephi
- Continue to develop a skilled labor force by adding technical programs and one to two more four-year degree programs at Snow College
- Get the long-proposed rail spur built from Levan to Salina, giving Sanpete County closer access to rail freight
- Continue to develop the Manti-Ephraim Airport, including locking in a comprehensive zoning plan around the airport, to enable larger corporate jets to land in the county.