Minding your business: Council candidates answer Chamber of Commerce questions

In this Voter Guide, Moab City Council candidates respond to questions from the business community in our final installment of local 2019 election coverage. The Times-Independent and Moab Chamber of Commerce have partnered to provide this space, which focuses on how council decisions impact local businesses and what the candidates would do to mitigate those impacts.

The question-and-answer format has allowed candidates to provide their opinions in their own words. The order in which they are presented is completely random, with no preference given to any candidate.

– The Times-Independent
– Laici Shumway, Moab Chamber of Commerce


Chamber: Given the recent decisions made by local government that would suggest a slowing of marketing in Moab, what is your position on the future marketing of Moab?

Kalen Jones: I think it is critical that Moab continue to be marketed. Businesses, as well as the local, state and federal governments, have made significant investments to create Moab’s booming tourism economy. Continuing that success, and the revenue flow that supports businesses, employees and local governments, depends on successful marketing. Colorado’s 1993 cessation of tourism advertising, and subsequent 30 percent decline in market share, provides a cautionary tale I would not want to see repeated here. Visitors seek out exceptional locations for their travels, and informing them of the incredible range of experiences Moab has to offer should be executed through unified campaigns.

As Moab matures as a destination, it is also important that we preserve the quality of experiences that have led to our success. Crowding during peak times, imbalances in visitor services (i.e. restaurant seats vs. beds), and strained government services (search and rescue, EMS, public safety, parks) can lead to negative reviews. Strategic marketing can support smoothing of the visitation peaks. A rational, fact-based evaluation of the appropriate allocation of TRT between advertising and mitigation can help alleviate a shortfall in local government services that visitors rely on, while still supporting competitive marketing.

Ken Minor: I believe that our tourism advertising must be specific and targeted. Not all tourists have the same impact on the town nor the same economic impact. I believe that we should support the efforts of the Travel Council to place targeted advertising to encourage tourism that has the lowest impact and highest revenue. Tourists who fly into Moab, rent a vehicle, stay in local accommodations, and frequent local businesses would bring in more revenue with a lower impact than those who drive here and stay in their own RV, for example. While we have limited room and resources and we all have seen the traffic jams that occur at the end of most holiday weekends, I believe that Moab has the capacity for and could certainly use the economic benefit of specific types of tourists.

Tawny Knutewson-Boyd: I reached out for clarification as to which decision(s) specifically were being referred to; in response it was the decision not to accept a $250,000 grant to the Travel Council. It would be unwise and unfair for me to comment on the reason the county council made that decision, since I was not privy to their meetings or thought process. Marketing of Moab will continue, it may simply take some different tactics or involve some methods not utilized before. The markets may be different in size or geographical location; regardless, it will continue. The county and city receive TRT monies with different constraints. I do support the proposal that counties have more latitude in what and how TRT monies are utilized.

Rani Derasary: Thanks for clarifying that “recent decisions” here refers to Grand County Council decisions to 1) reject $250,000 in tourism promotion grant funding; and 2) pursue changes in state Transient Room Tax code. First, the grant decision was a county – not city – council decision. I respectfully defer to county council members on this, trust they studied the issue, and voted for what was best for county residents. As for changing TRT spending rules, I support allowing Grand County and other “mature tourist economies” in Utah to have greater flexibility in how TRT can be spent. The city is lucky; we receive unrestricted TRT funds we can put in our general fund. The county, however, has a limited list of things it can spend its TRT on including law enforcement, search and rescue, emergency medical services, and solid waste. Plus, 47% of TRT currently goes to promoting Moab. I support the county council’s current deliberations with the Travel Council, Utah Association of Counties and Representative Albrecht to alter TRT code so that Grand County can spend less on advertising, and more mitigating tourism impacts, including workforce housing. I believe this shift will improve resident quality of life and with it tourists’ experience.

Bryon Walston: Moab’s businesses are the lifeblood of the community. Many business owners work long and hard to give service to our community and our visitors. We need to continue marketing the Moab area in a planned and orderly manner. When you lose your market share it is hard to gain it back. We need to support our businesses and help them succeed. We need to work for them and with them. Currently there is a rift between the city government and the business community. The rules and regulations that we set as a city need to help and support the businesses while maintaining the health and welfare of the people. The people that call Moab their home.

Kendall Jenson: I believe the marketing of Moab must continue. Only a few short years ago, some residents of Moab and Grand County made a concerted effort to discourage the extraction of gas, oil and minerals from our public lands, thus narrowing our economic base. They used their influence to encourage our community to rely on one “clean” industry: tourism. Now, with our proverbial eggs in one basket, it seems this same group is using their influence to discourage tourism.

In order for our local businesses to thrive, we must continue to market Moab. Moab’s tourism-based businesses and their employees pay nearly all the taxes in our community. Who will make up the shortfall if the tourism industry slows from lack of advertising? Wise marketing decisions and controlled, deliberate growth can benefit our entire community – businesses and citizens alike.

Chamber: What will you do to support the business community to grow a stable, small business economic base? We talk affordable housing, what about affordable business properties?

Jones: A primary role of municipal government is to provide the infrastructure that undergirds businesses. In my first term I have supported investment in the new wastewater treatment plant, sewer mains including the new North Trunk Line, which primarily serves commercial properties, a significant expansion of off-Main parking, and comprehensive planning for the maintenance of all infrastructure. I have approved the shifting of routine business permitting decisions from council to staff, and a streamlined site-plan permitting process.

Businesses compete for property, and in Moab lodging has tended to be the most profitable, and hence competitive, use. In an ideal world, market forces would lead to a theoretical best utilization of real estate, but this can lead to an imbalance in services and a lack of opportunity for other business types. To improve this, I would: support downtown redevelopment, to take advantage of the significant potential to grow up, by advocating for a greater city role in parking and stormwater management; support smart, flexible mixed-use development standards to support development which is both profitable, and creates new business space downtown; continue city-led small-area planning efforts to support attractive and orderly development of areas including West Center Street, 400 East, and off-Main downtown.

Minor: I would like to see a streamlined process for doing business in the city. For example, years ago starting a business in Utah was time consuming and confusing with no one good centralized source of information as to what all was required. The state created a comprehensive checklist and later an online OneStop Business Registration process for those starting a business in Utah. Now you can find, in one place, all you need to start your business in Utah. We need a similar process in Moab to make it easier to start and run a business here. One place to find all the licensing, regulations and other requirements that may affect a small business. As far as availability of affordable properties, I believe that the conditional use process should be reinstated to allow specific uses that would be appropriate in areas where a full commercial rezone may not be the best option.

Knuteson-Boyd: Moab’s community of businesses, from large corporate entities to small sole proprietor businesses, all need support from the community to be successful. Shopping locally is just one method. If the council has the opportunity to make changes that will help diversify existing areas to allow businesses to succeed, I will look at those with an open mind. Areas in which commercial enterprises are located on the ground floor and housing on upper floors would be one method to help business utilize a smaller footprint while growing a business and providing much-needed housing. The future USU campus springs to mind. Creating multi-use areas off Main Street (community nodes is one term that’s been used) including commerce will help to promote a diverse group of businesses that serve both residents and visitors. I like to think back to small corner stores and shops that were walkable/bikeable and offered wares and goods that everyone uses or needs.

Derasary: Amid our lowest hanging fruit is helping Moab’s impressive locally owned small businesses thrive and expand. Affordable housing is key to attracting and retaining their staff. The city is advancing the number of affordable units by redeveloping its Walnut Lane property, and by requiring new overnight lodging to either build affordable housing or pay a fee in lieu. I also support reducing barriers for outfitters to provide onsite guide housing. Employers can invest in housing, e.g. through the Moab Area Community Land Trust. Note that land trusts have tools to make not only residential, but also commercial, property more affordable. Businesses can cut costs by sharing office, pop-up, or other creative workspace. Future city regulations for new lodging will presumably promote mixed uses in our commercial zones, integrating retail, restaurant and office space. The city also increased staff wages to a minimum of $15.61 in 2016, setting an example for other employers; it recently revamped its fee schedule – resulting in some business fees going down; and aspires to make business licensing easier. We can also refer businesses to helpful local resources including the Small Business Development Center, Women’s Business Center of Utah, Workforce Services, and USU Career & Technical Education programs.

Walston: Some of the rules and regulations we have now on the books make it hard to start and maintain a business here in Moab. I would like to see some ordinances or some rule changes and/or some tax or start-up incentives that encourage small business growth in the area. Market economics has caused the price on land to increase over the past few years. To encourage businesses to come to Moab we need to be proactive and not cause an unwanted negative feeling to newcomers and visitors. A new business plaza would be a welcomed addition to the area.

Jenson: With an understanding that the stability of our economic base is sustained by tourism, I will encourage a robust economy by listening to business owners and implementing measures that will promote their interests, while at the same time balancing the current and future needs of our community. In regard to affordable business properties, I think the city can incentivize investors by waiving certain fees or other building requirements in order to help the investor realize a profit, but I don’t think it should be the taxpayers’ burden to subsidize affordable housing or business properties. Furthermore, any viable business plan should include the market cost of the business property, since requiring taxpayers to subsidize the cost of business properties is not sustainable. I believe the private sector is better equipped to purchase, build and manage these projects while making a profit for their efforts. In this way everyone wins – the small business owner, those in need of affordable housing, the investor, and the taxpayer.

Chamber: What efforts to involve, communicate and receive feedback from businesses would you make on decisions that would impact them?

Jones: I have recently begun attending Travel Council meetings to share information back and forth between that body and the city. The city’s representation on the Travel Council has ebbed and flowed, and I think it is important the council is consistently engaged with, and understands, the tourism economy as well as our marketing strategies. I would support ongoing council participation with the chamber board, both to understand the concerns of their members, and to inform them of pending policy changes and key times to provide input.

For major decisions I would support town hall meetings to invite input about specific issues, plans and projects. I, along with the current council, supported and attended the multiple public meetings held during the overnight accommodations moratorium. More broadly, I think it would be worthwhile for the city to conduct focus groups and hold roundtable discussions with key business owners, as well as residents, to find out what information businesses and citizens want to know and what they feel is lacking regarding city communications efforts. I would also have the city periodically use online and/or by-mail surveys to seek input from businesses and residents.

Minor: I welcome feedback and comments from the business community as well as individual citizens of Moab. I am a member of the Chamber of Commerce. I work with many businesses every year in my accounting business. Catch me when you see me around town or email me anytime.

Knuteson-Boyd: Being approachable, accessible and available by phone, text or email and responding to those communications is one method. Patronizing local businesses, being seen in them and recommending great service and work to others is helpful. We aren’t always aware of concerns unless we are told about them. The city has made efforts to be proactive about upcoming events, areas of concern or work to be done so businesses and residents are not caught off guard. If the work needing to be done is disruptive, we have tried to mitigate it to the best of our ability and communicate directly with involved businesses. This has been at the direction of the council. We will continue to improve our current method of communications and as always are open to new ideas.

Derasary: For starters, I let business owners and other residents know they can go online to the Notify Me page (moabcity.org/list.aspx) to sign up for emails or texts on subjects of interest (e.g., an alert when the city council packet comes out). Information exchange at the city is a two-way street; residents need to put effort into engaging, but we also need to communicate effectively with you. In 2018 I heard from local businesses that they needed more communication from the city and UDOT about downtown and parking plans, Highway 191 widening and hotspot funding. So I went door to door to 120 of them to pass out project information, ask about other concerns, and how to best communicate. Based on feedback from those visits, I began an email list I use to send interested residents summaries of our upcoming meeting packets and other meetings of interest. (To be added, simply email me at: [email protected].) I have found this the most powerful tool I have to highlight decisions that impact residents, businesses or not, in a timely fashion. The Chamber of Commerce is on this list, and I understand Director Laici Shumway is forwarding the emails to Chamber members.

Walston: There is presently a big disconnect between the businesses and the City of Moab. There is a “Us versus Them” feeling in the business community. Moab businesses collect a lot of the revenues from sales and services that run our local government. Currently the business owners feel left out of the decision-making process in the city. I feel like we need to have constant input from the Moab Chamber of Commerce and develop a rapport with the many business owners in Moab through better communication and asking them their input on the important issues. Some of the recent ordinances have hurt property owners financially and have hurt the motel and lodging Industry. We need to work together and have balance in the council, which we do not have presently. We all know that Moab is a diverse community. All sides need to be represented, not just one. We can make Moab a better place for our families and visitors alike, but there needs be a balance and fairness.

Jenson: Before making decisions that would impact local businesses, I would visit one on one with business owners. My duty as a voting member of the city council will be to represent all of our citizens to the best of my ability, knowing that our business community is vital to every other facet of Moab’s well-being.