Although some appear to be rebounding, Utah's small towns will not prosper until they develop strong, aggressive leadership, according to a report published by Western governors.
The report, one of several ordered by the Western Governor's Association, was released Thursday. It said Utah's small cities must find ways to make themselves unique if they want to attract companies.Ed Meyer, Utah's director of rural marketing, agrees.
"Rural areas can't just say `We have hard workers and a strong work ethic,' " Meyer said. "Lots of areas have that."
Instead, small towns should take a natural resource in their areas and do something unique with it, Meyer said. The town of Wellington is a prime example. It was able to attract a company that produces ink from coal resins partly because of the local coal industry and because the College of Eastern Utah was willing to provide specialized training.
To help Utah's small towns, the report recommends the state establish five committees to study how to make rural areas unique, how to obtain money for new businesses, how to encourage entrepreneurism and how to develop local leadership.
Leadership is the key for many small towns that suffer from a poor self-image, the report said. However, many leaders in rural Utah leave before becoming old enough to contribute.
"Other potential leaders never surface due to a lack of knowledge regarding how they can contribute or because of inadequate motivation," the report said.
Gov. Norm Bangerter said many small cities in the state have had success stories.
"The list of successes is impressive including new companies involved in everything from outer space crystals to telecommunications, from rocket fuel to printers ink, from computer programs to jet airplane parts and from biomedical components to display cabinets," Bangerter said.
However, many of Utah's small cities still are suffering, he said.
The report, done by California-based SRI International, said workers in rural Utah earn less now than 10 years ago. Many are leaving the state. In 18 of 25 counties surveyed, at least 15 businesses were started in 1986. Most of those failed.
However, times appear to be getting better.
"Things are still tough in most of rural Utah," the report said. "We are simply saying that conditions have improved somewhat."