SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's powerful economy is celebrated around the country with any number of designations that herald the Beehive State for its job growth, explosive development of tech jobs and its fertile atmosphere for startups.
But when Forbes names Utah as the best state in the country for business and careers, the American business magazine isn't referencing Price in Carbon County, San Juan County's Blanding or Bicknell in Wayne County.
"Some of the counties in rural Utah are doing OK, but none of them are back to pre-recession levels," said Wes Curtis, director of the Center for Rural Life and a member of the Governor's Rural Partnership Board.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's rural jobs tour kicked off Monday with events in Box Elder and Cache counties to stoke support and collaboration around his initiative to create 25,000 jobs in the 25 counties off the Wasatch Front in four years.
Herbert tabbed his lieutenant governor, Sanpete County native Spencer Cox, to represent him on the tour, which will make stops in 15 counties throughout the summer to set a framework for connecting jobs with people.
“I will not rest until all 29 counties experience the same economic success,” said Gov. Gary R. Herbert. “I challenge Utah businesses from across the state to come together. Utahns are hardworking and creative, and by working together we can find innovative solutions.”
The tour is organized in partnership with the World Trade Center Utah and 20 economic development partners.
Curtis said the success of the Wasatch Front tends to overshadow the challenges in the rest of the state, which can include lack of infrastructure, a homogenized economy and lack of skilled workforce.
"Having this kind of focus and attention put on this need is invaluable," he said.
Herbert detailed his rural jobs initiative in his State of the State address in January, emphasizing that Utah's political leaders, business leaders and economic development experts need to chart a more successful course for rural Utah that includes job training, incentives for businesses to locate there and sustainable efforts to diversify local economies.
Curtis said many of Utah's rural counties continue to struggle with high unemployment, out-migration, significant job losses and stagnant economies.
From 2014 to 2016, Beaver County experienced a 19 percent decrease in jobs. In Uintah County — hit by a dramatic oil and gas slump — the losses were even more telling.
That area experienced job losses of 23 percent — or the equivalent of Salt Lake County shedding 140,000 jobs, according to statistics Curtis provided.
Grand, Garfield and Wayne counties logged double-digit unemployment rates at some point over those two years, compounded by the persistent struggle with low-paying jobs.
Curtis said he is hopeful that the initiative will help turn the path for rural Utah by sparking new opportunities.
"Diversification is really essential to those counties," he added.