A fresh January on the calendar always inspires us to think about new beginnings, or old ideas that need to be let go, that could or should further improve Tooele County’s quality of life. Such inspiration often leads to a New Year’s wish or two.
In the recent past, we’ve wished for more local government watchdogs, to never give up trying to revitalize historic downtown Tooele, and to fix what matters most in our schools. Some of those wishes have seen progress. Others not so much, but never underestimate the power of hope.
For example, our New Year’s wish from a year ago was for the Tooele County Commission to get back on track with a committed economic development initiative after the commission shuttered the county’s economic development office more than two years ago to save money.
When we made that wish last January it looked like progress was already on its way. The commissioners had earmarked $153,000 in their 2014 budget to renew efforts to get more businesses here. There was also the June 2013 promise by the commission to “build the presence and pressure that will bring business to the county.”
To do that requires a strategic, front-end marketing commitment to viably compete against other areas of Utah and the Intermountain West for limited business opportunities. But before such a commitment can take shape — and have a chance of success — a plan must first be developed, then implemented and sustained.
To our delight the development of such a plan got underway last April. The “Tooele County Economic Development Strategic Planning Day” was the first time in years during which several local business, organization, education and governmental leaders met for what may lead to a new, comprehensive economic development plan for the county.
Attendees at the planning day identified several of the county’s key economic strengths, like affordable land and a ready work force. But they also identified a lack of immediately developable land as the county’s main weakness.
Thankfully, that initial meeting was just the start. Last July, a second meeting was held and attendees refined goals. They also — much to our surprise — unanimously decided that economic development in the county needs to be led by a single organization.
Such support for a unified economic development front hasn’t been openly heard from local leaders in several years. In the 1980s, the Tooele County Economic Development Corporation was created to do that job. In the 1990s, however, the corporation was disbanded.
But at the second meeting last July, officials there agreed the county, cities and towns must transcend territorialism and “work together” to be more successful with economic development. They further agreed to let the Tooele County Council of Governments develop plans for a new entity responsible for economic development.
Regrettably, little more has been publicly done since last July to create and launch that new entity.
With nearly 50 percent of the area’s available workforce commuting to the Wasatch Front to earn a paycheck, the need to create more local jobs, diversify categories of industry and generate new tax revenues, remains a priority.
It is hoped the new Tooele County Commission will make sure the momentum achieved last year toward an economic development plan won’t be lost. That is our New Year’s wish for 2015.