On April 12, I spoke at the Rural Utah Business Conference in Richfield, Utah, to a few hundred business leaders from that part of the state on economic development and job creation via entrepreneurship. After my speech, I received a letter asking for help from a business owner in Hanksville, Utah.
The letter came from Jessica Alvey, who with her husband, Duke, runs Stan’s Burger Shak, the Chevron Station and Whispering Sands Motel. In her note to me, Jessica wrote:
“We love our community. Our roots are strong here. We are the largest employer in Hanksville. We currently employ either the head of household or both husband and wife of 11 families, with more and more seeking employment with us. This is a great responsibility and burden that we take very seriously.
"One of our main goals in business is to create and establish sustainable jobs for our local families. This is a very difficult task with seasonal tourism. Even so, each year we have tried to expand so these jobs can be long lasting and be more gainful. I feel we are now truly at a crossroads. We have studied our options and believe the time is right to expand our operations to include a full service RV park and 24 more additional motel rooms with a pool and Laundromat.”
She continues, “I am incredibly fearful moving forward. Just prior to Sept. 11, 2001, we had expanded with another restaurant. The attack on America hit us incredibly hard that day, as it did many businesses in the United States, and for four years tourism in our area was catastrophic. As a result, we lost everything and went bankrupt. As you can imagine, many of our employees and their families suffered with us. We are back in business again; wiser, smarter and better at what we do.
“To expand, we need money. At this moment, we do not have personal funds to achieve our goals. I believe we need to secure a bank loan to proceed. How can we move forward having had a bankruptcy and with no net worth? Alan, what should we do? What advice can you give us?”
When I read her letter and noted that she and her husband are carrying an enormous personal and civic load and with most everyone living in poverty, I couldn’t sleep. Even with a very full personal schedule, I knew I could not ignore her plea. This couple needs help. They need assistance now, not a year from now.
I called Jessica on the phone and discussed her tribulations; her comments reinforced my belief that there are worried business owners in tiny communities all over Utah with similar stories of daunting economic challenges.
I told Jessica I will help her and the good citizens of Hanksville with steady jobs and better wages. “Jessica,” I said, “I know when the kind and thoughtful people of Utah hear about your plight and that of your neighbors, these great souls with loving hearts, talent, expertise and a willingness to develop and execute a plan will step forward to assist with this noble cause.”
In my experience, there are several ways to help small businesses and desperate communities. I’ve listed several recommendations below that might be useful.
1. Local business owners and area community leaders should gather together to understand the issues, their markets, customer needs and community resources. In remote areas of the state, the leaders of smaller towns should combine with the leadership of the entire county to develop a broad plan that encompasses one and all.
2. The group should include leaders from public and higher education, city and county government, economic development directors, large and small businesses, entrepreneurs, banks and credit unions, developers, representatives from state government and chambers of commerce.
3. One passionate leader needs to step forward to organize the effort and invite all parties to participate.
4. He or she should facilitate a vision and strategy for job creation via economic development that benefits every business owner in the area.
5. The committee should consider five areas for success; superior talent, sound ideas, necessary funding, an educated work force and broad community support. Where there are deficiencies, the committee should find ways to fill the gaps.
6. All participants should agree with the plan and align their actions accordingly.
7. Meetings should be held monthly to focus on plans, assignments and progress reports.
8. Lastly, there are many bright and successful business leaders along the Wasatch Front who can help not only the folks in Hanksville but other small towns in Utah as well. For those with an interest and resources, I invite you to step forward to assist in any way you can.
It’s my belief that Mr. and Mrs. Alvey of Hanksville and hundreds of other businesses like theirs, throughout rural Utah, can find solutions to their challenges as they come together as focused and dedicated community partners with a common and noble cause. The secret to success is for everyone to work together to solve individual and group problems.
Alan E. Hall is a co-founding managing director of Mercato Partners, a regionally focused growth capital investment firm. He founded Grow Utah Ventures, is the founder of MarketStar Corp. and is the chairman of the Utah Technology Council.