A "craft corridor" that would help Utah's craft businesses rival the ski industry in economic impact could start operating as early as next year, according to a member of the state's Board of Business and Economic Development.

Tim Anderson, a board member and St. George attorney, said the corridor would be like a "220-mile-long shopping mall" along U.S. 89 between Fairview and Kanab."It's a potentially huge industry," he said Friday during a board retreat at Thanksgiving Point. "It could enhance a part of the state that needs economic development and enhance the craft industry statewide."

A trade association of "crafters" in Asheville, N.C., includes more than 4,000 members who do about $122 million in business each year, Anderson said. The craft business could have a similar impact in Utah, he said, because people are willing to travel to buy arts, crafts and heritage products.

"The idea behind this is to create Craft Utah, just like we did Ski Utah," Anderson said.

"This is not just rural economic development. We're looking for businesses throughout the state to team up with businesses along the corridor."

He said a committee is in the process of forming a trade association that may be called the Utah Heritage Products Alliance. Once that group is in place, it will need to develop a business plan.

People who buy crafts are looking for an experience, Anderson said. And the designated stretch of U.S. 89 would provide that, because the average distance between "quaint" communities is only 14 miles.

Meetings in some of those communities earlier this month found widespread support for the proposal, Anderson said, and he hopes the corridor can be in place by 1999 or 2000.

It eventually could be home to 200 or 300 craft shops, he said, and would bring in tourists for about two days at a time during the months of May through September.

Anderson said private business owners will oversee the development of the corridor, but he will provide the economic development board with periodic updates on its progress.

Ron Richins of the Division of Business and Economic Development said the board might be able to help the project along by funding a feasibility study.

"(The corridor) has to be driven by private enterprise, otherwise it won't work," Richins said. "I see our role as the facilitator, always keeping in mind that private enterprise would have to drive it."