The Ute Indian Reservation in eastern Utah's Uintah Basin is a forgotten, job-starved part of the state and wants some help from the rest of Utah, tribal leaders told Gov. Norm Bangerter at a Reservation meeting this week.
"This part of the state has been ignored," said Luke Duncan, who will take his seat on the tribe's ruling Business Committee Monday. Duncan and other tribal leaders met with Bangerter on the Reservation this week.The oil-rich Uintah Basin plunged into economic stagnation in the mid-1980s when oil prices crashed from $30 per barrel to $14. Uintah crude now sells for $20 per barrel, leaving unemployment at about 81/2 percent in Duchesne County.
"The only reason it's not 20 (percent) is because when people lost jobs they left," said Duchesne County Commissioner Larry Ross.
But to calculate the Ute Reservation's unemployment level, Duchesne County's jobless rate must be raised by a factor of 10. Only an estimated 15 percent of Ute Indians on the Reservation have jobs.
The tribe is fighting that trend in part with the development of Ute Manufacturing Ltd., a plant making containers for the U.S. military. But to win that battle, tribal leaders say they need help from the governor.
Plant manager Cas Sato led Bangerter on a tour of the facility, which began production in 1987, and told him the small industrial complex is already employing 80 workers, roughly 50 of whom are Ute.
"But if we had the capability we could expand," Sato told the Governor at a meeting with current and newly elected members of the Business Committee. Eventually, Sato wants the plant bulging with 450 employees.
"The greatest thing that could happen would be our being able to hire all the young people on the Reservation," he said, explaining that young Utes looking for jobs or an education are forced to leave their homeland.
"We just don't have the skills out here," Sato said.
Now, Ute Manufacturing contracts with the U.S. Air Force and Army as well as private industry, but the Tribe would like more government contracts and help from the state in offering vocational training.
"In the future, you're going to be hearing from us," Sato told the governor.
Bangerter conceded it was difficult to attract industry into rural areas of the state because they are so far removed from industrial centers. Most companies want to be 60 miles from international airports, for instance, he said.
However, Bangerter called the Ute Manufacturing plant "an example of what can be done."
Bangerter stressed that he "didn't have the answers. We're here to listen to what your concerns are."
Serving the interests of the tribe as well as those of surrounding counties, municipalities and the state must be considered when drawing up an economic blueprint for the area, he said.
"We're all in this together, and the worst thing we can do is to divide and conquer," he said.