The state’s lieutenant governor told a group of community leaders on Monday, Aug. 19 that he will do what he can to secure operational funding for an expanded university campus in town. During the meeting at the Moab City Council chambers, Bell discussed a variety of topics with city and county officials and other community members.
Bell, who spoke at length about education’s role in promoting statewide economic development, said he doesn’t want to step ahead of Utah State University President Stan Albrecht. But he said his office will work to include the money in Gov. Gary Herbert’s budget for the coming fiscal year.
“Let’s be aggressive,” he said.
USU Moab is already well positioned for future growth and expansion.
In 1995, the Ron and Katherine Holyoak family donated 20 acres of land for a new campus. Wendy Walker-Tibbetts and her family have since pledged $15 million to the facility, while the City of Moab also established a fund for higher education.
Despite those commitments, Grand County Council chairman Gene Ciarus told Bell that USU Moab will still need plenty of help in order to build a new campus.
Judging by the lieutenant governor’s remarks, though, Bell didn’t need to be convinced that the project could be a worthwhile one.
“Utah State, I’ll tell you, is a gem,” he said earlier. “They have 104 friends in that legislature.”
As it is, Bell said he doesn’t believe the state has made the most of the services that the greater USU system has to offer.
“I think we have not exploited Utah State’s backbone enough,” he said. “I think we need to continue to meld their capacity with our school districts.”
Aside from education, Bell called airports a maturing influence on cities around the state.
He said he’s glad that the local community is pushing ahead on the issue of federally funded Essential Air Service (EAS) flights to Canyonlands Field Airport. But it would be great, he said, if someone at the state level can coordinate those efforts with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which manages the EAS program.
“We need somebody thinking about this 24/7,” he said.
Bell compared the overall issue of economic development to emergency response services.
As a rule, the state will be on the scene with some water bottles and a liaison. But if things get out of hand and community leaders say they need more help, they’ll get it, he said.
Having said that, Bell told the crowd that Moab occasionally falls victim to partisan politics.
“Let’s face it: there is a Democrat/ Republican divide in this state, and you guys and Park City sometimes get shortchanged,” he said.
But there’s no reason why the state can’t help the community diversify its economy, he said.
“Moab sends the state a lot of sales tax dollars – a lot – and we need to invest back,” he said.