It may be nothing more than some ideas on paper for now, but Tooele County’s economic future may be in the hands of a more united effort between local entities.
A group of over 50 local business, government, education, and military leaders gathered for the first Tooele County Economic Development Strategic Planning Day last Friday at Tooele Applied Technology College.
“There have been individual discussions in city, county, and other meetings around the county about what direction to take with economic development,” said Randy Sant, economic development consultant for Tooele City and the county. “This is the first time we have had this kind of discussion with everybody in the same room.”
Tooele City and Tooele County jointly organized the meeting, with Sant and Tooele County Commissioner Shawn Milne collaborating to invite local leaders to participate.
The meeting was facilitated by the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. Discussion leaders included Jeff Edwards, EDCU president and CEO; Brad Baird, senior business development manager; and Sherrie Martell, EDCU investor relations manager.
Conference participants worked in groups to identify Tooele County’s economic strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
As each group brainstormed ideas, their thoughts were written as bullet points on large flip chart paper, which were posted on walls and later shared and discussed with the entire group.
Along with rail access and venues based on auto racing, including Miller Motorsports Park and the Bonneville Salt Flats, the group also identified affordable land, educational opportunities, low cost of energy, high quality of life, climate, military presence and a ready workforce as some of Tooele County’s economic strengths.
On the other hand, a lack of “shovel ready” properties for economic projects, with ready access to water, power, sewer, and nearby transportation, were listed as one of the county’s biggest economic weaknesses.
Other economic weaknesses that concerned the attendees included: Tooele County’s reputation for financial instability and the perceived preponderance of hazardous industries; inclusion by the Environmental Protection Agency in an air quality non-attainment area; lack of workforce with hands-on experience in manufacturing; and intra-county territorialism.
Conference attendees agreed that the county is often divided along the lines of high school boundaries. The group agreed that to be successful with economic development, the entire community needs to transcend provincial tendencies and work together.
Threats to Tooele County’s future economic development that were identified by the group included a lack of unity, aiming at low goals, resistance to change, and lack of public buy-in with goals.
“We need to make sure we are all on the same page,” said Chris Sloan, vice chairman for the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce.
Another growth concern addressed was that of residents who like their community the way it is and don’t want to see it change.
Opportunities for economic growth in the county can be found in the development of a regional plan for economic development, improved transportation, better marketing, and focused business recruitment around clusters based on the county’s strengths, assets and existing businesses.
Clusters are groups of businesses around a central theme. Baird used Ogden as an example of a successful cluster business development.
“Ten years ago the mayor of Ogden had a vision of the city becoming a center for outdoor manufacturing,” he said. “A lot of people thought he was crazy, but today there are thousands of people employed in the area in outdoor manufacturing and nationally Ogden is seen as the place to be for outdoor manufacturers.”
After the exercise on strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, the group identified goals for economic development.
Leading the list was a regional infrastructure plan that includes the development of the Mid Valley Highway; aligning employer needs with educational opportunities; and empowering the Tooele Alliance for Education, Employment and Economic Development to be more involved in coordinating county-wide economic development efforts.
Another top goal is to develop a united mission statement and plan for economic development that can be clearly articulated to the community and used to guide decision making.
“The consensus of the group was that we need to work together to accomplish our goals,” said Tooele City Councilmember Debbie Winn. “I was pleased with the feeling of collaboration that I felt during the discussion.”
As the meeting began, Edwards set the stage for the day’s talks by reviewing EDCU’s statewide accomplishments in 2013.
Last year there were 9,405 new jobs created in Utah and another 1,913 jobs retained; 3.4 million new square-feet of commercial facilities were built; and 12 companies chose to build headquarters in Utah. EDCU participated in 103 site visits by companies looking to relocate or expand into Utah, and there were a total of 248 open economic development projects.
Baird reviewed some of the past EDCU projects in Tooele County, which included ATI’s titanium plant in Rowley, Syracuse Casting in Tooele City, Bonnie Plants in Grantsville, Air Products at the Ninigret Depot, and Cabela’s Distribution Center at Peterson Depot.
“For a county your size you have really done quite well the past few years,” he said.
“Economic development is like farming,” he added. “You need the right conditions and you plant seeds and wait.”
For example, the Cabela’s Distribution Center project took seven years from the time the company first contacted EDCU until the outdoor sporting goods retailer closed on property in Tooele, according to Baird.
Among the meeting’s attendees were officials from Tooele City, Tooele County, Grantsville City, and the town of Stockton; leaders from the Tooele County School District, Utah State University’s Tooele Regional Campus, and Tooele Applied Technology College; state legislators, the Tooele office of the Department of Workforce Services, and the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce.
Also present were business leaders from Ninigret Depot, Peterson Depot, Utah Fabrication, Stockton Miners Cafe, Tooele Holiday Inn-Express, EnergySolutions, Miller Motorsports Park, Miller Family Real Estate, and Carlisle SynTec.
The group agreed to meet again in the next quarter to solidify goals and to identify a plan of action for each goal.
“I was impressed by what we accomplished and the number of business leaders that showed economic development is a priority by attending,” said Jared Hamner, Tooele County Chamber of Commerce executive director. “Now we can begin focusing on the goals.”