Rural Utah, especially the central and southern counties, is facing an economic crisis, but with effective leadership some of the problems can be overcome, according to Ed Meyer, director of the State Rural Marketing Program for the Utah Division of Business and Economic Development.
Although industry has declined in the rural counties, some positive economic things have been slowly occurring, Meyer said during the division's monthly economic update meeting in the State Capitol.Meyer pointed to Cedar City with its Shakespearean Festival promotion, Moab promoting several special events, Blanding with its small businesses and Snow College's creation of a small business incubator program as examples of positive economic signs in the rural communities.
But he said these communities have good leadership and that the areas without good leadership "come crying and want the state to help."
Because some rural businesses face inadequate financing and/or management problems, Meyer recommended helping the managers so they can keep operating.
Moderator for the panel was Adrien Taylor, co-publisher of the Moab Times Independent, who chided the audience on having a negative attitude about rural Utah. She said rural Utahns have the impression "urban people will do everything for us and to us, but I want you to know that we have plenty of intelligent people living in the rural areas."
Taylor said there are many split families in rural Utah because the fathers have left the state to look for jobs. And because people can't sell their houses, they just leave them, she said.
Brad Barber, director of data resources in the Utah Office of Planning and Budget, said there were 117,000 people living in the central and southern Utah counties (xcluding Washington County) in 1920 and decreased to 115,000 by 1970. But in 1984 the population in those counties stood at 184,000 and declined to 178,000 in 1987, anindication of an out-migration.
"When you consider the long-term history in these counties, the out-migration doesn't seem so severe," Barber said, but it still is substantial. It is hard to project growth in these counties because conditions change so rapidly, but he projects 194,000 people in these counties by the year 2000.
Wes Curtis, chairman of the Emery County Economic Development Council, said most Utahns aren't aware of the rural Utah crisis. "If the same situation existed along the Wasatch Front, everything between Heaven and Earth would be done to eliminate the problem," he said.
Curtis said state officials deserve credit for what is being done in rural Utah, which doesn't take anything away from the Wasatch Front. He said the recent enterprise zone legislation is helpful and that there should be incentives and additional sources of capital to help rural business.