CEDAR CITY — On what was to simply be the statewide rollout of his 25,000 rural jobs initiative, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he wasn't satisfied that enough is being done.
"I'm not really as happy as I think I should be about this effort," he said of the plan he outlined in his 2017 State of the State address in January.
"I feel like we have had great discussions," he told the crowd at the 30th annual Utah Rural Summit, "but we are at the crossroads where we actually have to do something."
Consider these county job losses from 2007 to 2016:
• Emery County, 21.9 percent
• Daggett County, 19.4 percent
• Piute County, 34.6 percent
Herbert said that on the plane ride down for the summit in Cedar City, he scratched out some core principles on a piece of a paper. And in an announcement that he said he was a surprise to his staff, he challenged rural leaders to participate in his "do more" effort.
"It's time for action, time for doing. The time for talking is past," he said.
Herbert then challenged rural leaders to identify their community problems, the hindrances to getting them solved and craft a plan of action and bring it to Salt Lake City for a meeting to hammer out an "all hands on deck" approach to revitalizing rural Utah.
"We have a high degree of know-how. We have a low degree of do-how," Herbert said, which needs to change.
When the governor took questions and comments in response, Carbon County Commissioner Jake Mellor pointed out the two large hindrances to economic growth in his area are roads and reservoirs — big ticket items beyond the region's wallet.
The narrow corridor of U.S. 6 and lack of water to develop a vibrant manufacturing base stymie economic development interest in Carbon County, Mellor said.
Another commissioner who asked not to be identified told the Deseret News that what the governor pointed out — identifying problems and their solutions — was accomplished long ago, but the state needs to play a larger role.
"We've been asking for help for years," he said.
Herbert said the state has to play an active role but cautioned rural leaders.
"At the end of the day, a lot of this is going to be about 'give us more money,’" but the effort needs to go beyond that, he said.
Earlier, Natalie Gochnour, associate dean of the University of Utah's David Eccles School of Business, asked summit participants to envision what a Marshall Plan for rural Utah might look like, and how to jump-start the effort.
Gochnour, who also is director of the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute and was communications director under former Gov. Mike Leavitt, emphasized whatever's been done in the past has not been sufficient for 11 of Utah's counties that are still struggling with job losses in the postrecession era.
"If we are inspired by the Marshall Plan, we think big. We're talking projects, not planning."
The Marshall Plan of 1948, also known as the European Recovery Plan, channeled more than $13 billion to shattered Western European countries in the aftermath of World War II over four years.
While Gochnour said the Marshall Plan is an "imperfect metaphor" for rural Utah — these communities are not war-torn or in tatters — the American initiative's decisive approach is a model to follow.
"The Marshall Plan was quick," she said, noting that legislation aimed at rural Utah should be in the construction phase for the 2018 session when it begins in January.
Western European countries participating in the plan achieved increases in their gross national product as high as 25 percent during the effort's four-year run, which sought to renew chemical, engineering and steel industries.
Gochnour said a "think big" approach that includes smart investment and public-private partnerships modeled after the Marshall Plan could jumpstart areas of Utah that are not enjoying the rest of the state's success.
"It is a tale of two Utahs," she said, noting that four counties have unemployment higher than 6.5 percent and the out-migration of people from some communities.
For two years, Utah overall has earned the No. 1 spot in the country for its economy, but Herbert and others said the ranking ignores the reality on the ground in some regions of the state.
"I want to publicly thank Gov. Gary Herbert for not being satisfied with having the best economy in the nation," said Wes Curtis, director of the Utah Center for Rural Life at Southern Utah University, which hosted the summit.
The event continues Friday, including an address by Leavitt and a separate discussion on the impacts of a Donald S. Trump presidency on Utah.