As the Transcript recently wrote in an editorial (“Idle to first gear,” Sept. 17, 2013), our county’s economy seems to be improving. However, all around me, there are signs that we’re in for more turbulence. If this were an airplane ride, the “Keep your seatbelt on” warning would still be flashing.
A couple weeks ago, I took my truck in for an oil change to Goldstar, my favorite Grantsville car repair shop. As one of its employees shuttled me to another appointment, he mentioned they were closing down. After I gasped and lobbied that they change their minds—for a trustworthy mechanic is hard to come by—he said they simply didn’t have enough business.
“The other day, we had one safety inspection,” he said.
With Goldstar’s closing weighing heavy on my mind, I chatted with its owner, Curt. He’s a retired doctor from Alaska who brought a great bedside manner to the little repair shop on Main Street. Sadly, it wasn’t enough.
He said that between layoffs of several businesses—Kennecott, L3 Communications, and Deseret Chemical Depot, among others—vehicle owners get bids on repairs but can’t afford to do them. Sometimes, they can’t even afford to pay for the diagnostics.
Reluctantly, I wondered aloud, “Is the state prison relocation our county’s salvation?”
Curt told me that he used to live in Walla Walla, WA, which had a penitentiary. He noticed that prisoner wives moved there to be closer to their husbands and typically got on welfare programs.
As for jobs, he said, “the prison was constantly hiring guards with little education. Turnover was high.”
This doesn’t sound like an industry that would benefit our labor force in the long-term. Until there’s a better alternative, however, the prison will continue to look attractive to Tooele County.
Here’s something to consider. How about if we utilize a workforce that’s already being educated by Utah State University Tooele, Tooele Applied Technology Center, and Community Learning Center and woo industries that require advanced skills?
One of my neighbors is a mom of three young children whom I admire greatly. Several evenings a week, she leaves the kids in her husband’s care and takes classes at USU Tooele. Her goal is, by the time her youngest is in first grade, she will have an education degree and can teach.
There are many others like her, getting degrees and training in Tooele County. Let’s give them a reason to not just live, but to work, here.
When I served on the USU Tooele Board as alumni president a few years ago, we talked a lot about educational-industrial partnerships. In that vein, here are some ideas:
• Mountain Medical Center develops hands-on research partnerships, which in turn will attract grants.
• Miller Motorsports Park already has an international reputation for excellence in what they do. Why not develop an auto engineering industry that attracts not only clients but also creates jobs?
Do you see where I’m going here?
Bottom line is, the prison should be only one option of many. Let’s keep our chin up and all that. More importantly, let’s think outside the box and prepare a job landscape that capitalizes on an educated workforce instead of simply riding out the turbulence.
Jewel Punzalan Allen is a memoir writing coach and award-winning journalist who lives in Grantsville. Visit her at www.TreasuredStories.net.