Partnerships key to creating economic foundation
|Construction continues on the Price Airport as another $1.6 million is invested in additional runways. The Price airport has the third longest runway in the state and serves more than 700 corporate jets a year. More than $9 million has been allocated through state, federal and local funds over the past 16 years.|
In a recent speech to the Utah Legislature, Price Mayor Joe Piccolo pointed out that the future is now.
"Economic development isn't a process and it requires many pieces, all coming together at the same time," noted Piccolo.
During the last several years, Carbon County has worked on putting the pieces together. But because there is no starting or finishing point, the pieces come together one at a time. According to Piccolo, "The proof is in the pudding."
A surge in cooperation among the agencies overseeing economic development has occurred.
Jeri Hamilton, who heads Southeastern Utah Association of Local Government's business and economic department, indicates that the state is encouraging agencies to combine forces.
"We are being encouraged to set our goals and objectives so that they aren't conflicting with other agencies," explained Hamilton.
Since the agencies share a common goal, they have been able to build structure.
"Times have changed and this gives us all a point to start from," said Hamilton. "We want to enhance our communities, in business as well as socially."
Partnering seems to be the common denominator in economic development. Carbon economic development director Delynn Fielding indicated that the county is getting the parts and pieces in place in "a really positive shift in mindset." Local agencies are developing projects that promote the area as they never have done before.
"We are truly creating a foundation," said Fielding.
Many changes started last year as Carbon County's leadership began to shift. Three new mayors were elected in Price, Helper and Wellington. The college and public school district brought in new leaders and a new commissioner was elected. One positive move by the agencies and governments was planning a monthly brainstorming meeting to discuss what they can do to help community growth.
"Partnerships have been building and the growth is contagious. No one agency or community is taking the credit and not one specific group is ultimately responsible. However, it's a team effort," said Piccolo.
An example of partnering is the development of the southeastern Utah small business investment fund. Eight agencies joined forces two years ago and, since October 2001, have distributed more than $416,120 to fund 47 businesses. The available funding totals $765,000. More than 140 people have completed the training and, to date, not a single business has failed, pointed out Hamilton. The program serves a four county area - Carbon, Emery, Grand, and San Juan. Of the 47 businesses, 25 or more than 50 percent are in Carbon County.
Partners include the association of governments, workforce services, Utah Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan economic development, Southeastern Utah Applied Tech Center and Utah Power. They have joined forces to secure seed funding for small businesses with start-up grants that can be used for equipment, inventory or working capital. The partnership is an internal program, made up of people from people in eastern Utah.
"We believe this is the only way rural communities can grow through its own ranks. This helps people who have ideas, skills and dreams by giving them that extra push through funding, proper training and counseling to begin new businesses," said Hamilton.
The businesses are different and diversified. The average grant is about $8,700 and some businesses are seasonal. Businesses are tracked and worked with through an extensive follow-up program.
"This type of internal growth makes a community much stronger because it is growing from the inside up, rather than from the outside in," explained Hamilton.
Numerous successful programs started years ago, with commissioners Bill Krompel and Mike Milovich working on programs to enhance the local economy. The commissioners put Fielding into the economic development slot, where he has concentrated on attracting new business and industry into the area. One of the county's stronghold is tourism and Kathy Hanna-Smith has worked for six years to attract more tourism dollars.
"Carbon County had a record-breaking year in room tax dollars in 2002, when many areas in the state were down," said Hanna-Smith. Part of the success stems from attending 12 annual trade shows and telling Carbon County's story to thousands of guests.
"And it's working, as we track every inquiry and call we get," commented Hanna-Smith.
Another program that started many years ago is expansion of the Carbon County Airport. Krompel has served as commissioner over the airport for 16 years. More than $9 million in federal and state grants have been secured during this time period.
"We have been able to create the finest rural airport in the state, with the third longest runway behind the Salt Lake City International Airport and the recently renovated airport in Provo," noted Krompel. "We have the finest hangar and office space in any rural community in Utah, with more than 10,000 square feet of hangar space and 6,000 square feet of office. We still have room for expansion. Currently, they are in the middle of a $1.6 million construction project adding a parallel runway as a safety measure. Another $1 million is scheduled for next year for extensive ramp hardening and ramp improvements which will include lighting and drainage. We are able to contract with local contractors to do the work so money further stays in the community."
Krompel indicated more than 700 corporate jets use the airport annually, creating the largest regional center for southeastern Utah's energy division. Most of the jets serve the local coal, gas, and power industries. Net fuel sales have tripled in the past five years.
The airport board has been targeting private businesses related to airplane needs. One company looking at relocating would offer repairs to propellers, airplane body work, dismantling and fabrication. Fielding also recently attended a national trade show and had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of aviation related businesses.
Just as some programs are well established, others are in the idea stage. Some are being discussed by Commissioner Steve Burge. When he was campaigning for office, he ran across a comprehensive plan developed for the county in 1997.
"I had never heard of it before and it looked like an incredible amount of work had already been invested into the plan, but many of the ideas have fallen along the side," explained Burge.
As a result, he was one of several partners who sponsored a summit at CEU to kickoff a new plan. The four areas discussed included health and human services, economic development and tourism, law enforcement and education. All four areas are the foundation for a solid future, pointed out Burge. He stressed the importance of a partnership between the community and the college.
"CEU can serve as the nucleus in many of our plans because of the opportunity to enhance existing training programs and add additional ones, as opportunities become available," said Burge.
The local area has many natural draws, added Burge. Examples include paleontology, archeology, notable museums, dinosaurs, Native American remains, recreation and educational opportunities, open spaces, incredible history through mining as well as the Wild Bunch and Butch Cassidy. Burge also discussed "edutainment," a term referring to families seeking to recreate and learn at the same time.
"This is the number one reason many families travel anymore and we have all the opportunities available right here in this vicinity," pointed out the commissioner. Burge's dream is to establish a field study institute, a partnership made up of agencies like CEU, local cities and the county to take advantage of the unique resources and offer an advance college studies program.
"We could be the specialists for weekend activities, offering conferences and workshops to educators and leaders throughout the country."
Another ongoing effort involves Price's rural development agency (RDA). According to city community director Nick Tatton, the RDA panel was established in 1979. The program began to encourage rebuilding the downtown area. Last year, Price established an RDA district around Wal-Mart. For the city's business district to thrive, Tatton believes buildings must meet safety standards and offer features modern businesses demand. At the same time, businesses need to be attractive to shoppers and tourists. Many buildings in the redevelopment districts have taken advantage of the grant for construction and recomes back by way of tax revenues from enhanced property values and general economic growth. Redevelopment assistance comes in two forms: the commercial revitalization program and an extended restoration grant.