At a three-hour informal roundtable discussion in the Grand County Council chambers on Friday, Aug. 11, local and state officials, along with economic development experts, discussed economic challenges faced by the Moab area.
The group developed a handful of short-term action items, which include diversifying Moab’s economy, establishing a workforce training plan, and developing a legislative strategy to help identify which economic issues Grand County should pro-actively take to the governor and state lawmakers.
“Moab is ready to be more than a playground and we’re willing to take the steps to make that happen,” said Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine.
Citing a recent economic development report for the second quarter of 2017, Levine noted that Moab’s population continues to grow at a rate of about 0.9 percent annually, but that its average yearly wages are about $1,000 lower than the state average.
One issue at the forefront is the “affordability gap” between salaries and the cost of local housing, he noted, adding that Grand County also has one of the highest rates of intergenerational poverty in the state.
Other local officials at the meeting included Grand County Council members Curtis Wells and Mary McGann, and Moab City Community Services Director Amy Weiser. Canyonlands Field Airport director Judd Hill, Utah State University professor Cynthia Gibson and other USU-Moab representatives and Kelly Thornton of the Utah Department of Workforce Services joined them. Members of the Moab business community were also present, including developer and business owner Mike Bynum and Thatcher Vagts of Synergy Company.
State officials in attendance included Linda Gillmor, director of the state office of rural development and Nan Anderson, rural development outreach for the governor’s office of economic development. In addition, representatives from several of the entities involved in Gov. Gary Herbert’s 25K Jobs tour also participated.
Moab’s reliance on tourism was a main topic of discussion. According to the quarterly economic report, tourism related industries account for the largest segment of the Moab area economy, generating 83.1 percent of gross taxable sales and employing 56.25 percent of the workforce.
“What can we do to strengthen tourism?” Wells asked, while indicating that economic diversity is still needed in Moab.
Several officials at the meeting indicated that the Utah State University’s plans for a Moab campus would help diversify the local economy.
“[The USU campus] should be at the top of our list,” Bynum said. “That will drive this community economically, way into the future.”
Colby Cooley, a business development manager with the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, said that Grand County is already in a “fantastic” position, ahead of many other communities that are still at square one. He said Moab already has a strong built-in market for outdoor products, for example.
Other topics discussed at length during the session included support for local schools, promotion of air travel to and from Moab and ensuring sustainability as the area grows.
“I like where you are headed,” Gillmor said, encouraging local leaders to take their needs to the governor and other state officials and seek assistance.
“The governor has said this has to be generated from the bottom up and not from the top down,” she said.