Hospital, college are bright spots in local economy
Since 2005, economic development in the Castle Country has been largely centered in the Business Expansion and Retention Project. While the program's early goals focused on information gathering and individual business intervention, the group's monthly meetings have become a launching pad for business growth in the area. Planning to continue that trend, the group's most recent session included several reports which outline projections for the local economy moving into 2013.
"The general feeling I get this year is not nearly as positive as it was last year," said Gordon Odendahl, controller at Tony Basso GM, who was tasked with preparing a projection for the group. "Anyone involved in or dependent upon the mining industry is not looking to make any kind of decision about expansion and growth, hiring or future projects until after the presidential election."
His area-wide report, admittedly unscientific, showed that gross incomes and profits are down from last year, some significantly.
However, most businesses were either flat or slightly down heading into 2012's fourth quarter. Projections range from no growth to slow growth moving forward and while restaurants, motels and insurance are all down, construction remains steady in the area.
"Residential lending is up three percent over last year," he reported. "But the feeling is that this is due to re-financing and/or existing residents buying and selling existing homes on the market, not from new construction."
Odendahl's most serious concern stemming from the report comes from uncertainty around the coal mining and mine service industries which dominate the area's economy.
Concerns at CONSOL and less production than expected from Lila Canyon, coupled with slowing coal exports and possible trouble at west coast ports paint a troubling picture, he reported.
Oil and gas producers also face adversity with low product prices causing low production. While the energy industry as a whole faces continuing challenges, several areas of the projection called for growth in the local area.
"As a bright spot, LifePoint Hospitals seems to be serious and committed to improving Castleview Hospital. Plans to up quality of care, upgrade facilities and upgrade technology are all in the works," he said. "They are also recruiting new and quality physicians and working to improve the image of the hospital."
Despite some difficulty with numbers in 2012, Utah State University was also listed as a bright spot by Odendahl. He commented that improvement to the school's facilities and curriculum are both currently under way.
"USU Eastern brings a lot of people, both students and visitors, to our area," he said. "And jobs plus visitors equals business revenue."
While some number do speak to a downturn in the economy, there are others that speak to growth bubbling up through the down figures.
According to Price City Community Development Director Nick Tatton, Price city's sales tax numbers are up over eight percent this year. This increase, coupled with a bevy of building projects, show Carbon County's hub working to buck the current downtrend.
Inside of Price, a gated community, one fast food restaurant, an automotive retailer, a new credit union and two sporting good stores are working to open their doors.
"There are some challenges we face but there are also some bright spots to hold on to," explained Tatton.
Karl Kraync, who with Tatton helped to found BEAR, also saw some opportunity for the Castle Country's economy to move forward. According to Kraync, it is Castleview that has the potential to bring about big changes in the area's economy.
"Just look at what happened in Payson," he said. "Mountainview becoming a regional medical center has provided large growth in Utah County and we could see the same thing happen here."
For his part, Carbon County Economic Development Director Delynn Fielding, who is also a charter member of BEAR, stated that political and economic participation from the community will play large in the area's future.
"This election has both local and national ramifications and we need our community to get out and vote," he concluded. "And if you don't vote, then you don't deserve to complain."