Washington County officials' search for more economic development took them on a long journey Wednesday - to Salt Lake City.

Several of the southern Utah county's government and business leaders met with their Wasatch Front counterparts during an informal open house at the offices of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.Washington County has contracted for services with EDCU since July 1, paying $50,000 per year for help with national business recruitment and promotion.

Christopher A. Roybal, vice president of the EDCU client services group, said the agency also will help the county connect with Wasatch Front companies that may be considering expansion or joint ventures.

He said he does not think southern Utah and the Wasatch Front compete for economic development because they have different labor and real estate markets.

"It makes sense for us to partner," Roybal said. "This sort of broadens the scope of corporate recruitment for all of the state of Utah."

Scott Hirschi, director of the Washington County Economic De-vel-op-ment Council, said the contract with EDCU will place the county in a market that it could not afford to enter on its own.

And he agreed that Washington County will not compete with northern Utah for the same business leads.

"Our intent is to be another arrow in the quiver for the state of Utah," Hirschi said.

Primary among southern Utah's attributes is its weather - no snow removal budgets are necessary - clean air and lack of traffic, he said.

"Washington County has all of the good things that the state of Utah has, plus a couple," Hirschi said. "It's also strategically located to do business in the Western states."

He said the area has an "aggressive and productive" labor force, and within five years, it may have an airport big enough to handle large passenger jets.

St. George has spent about six years planning for a new airport about seven miles southeast of the city, on land the city already owns, Hirschi said. The first phase calls for construction of an 8,000-foot runway, with plans to extend that to 9,300 feet in phase two.

Construction on the project, which could cost about $60 million, will begin as soon as the city can find the money, he said. And Hir-schi said St. George's plans will not be affected by the private Heritage Institute's announcement that it wants to build an international airport in nearby Cedar City to service a Western theme museum.

"They're a private group proposing to do something," Hirschi said. "St. George city has a specific proposal."