An extraordinary thing happened last Friday that could ultimately lead Tooele County and its communities to create more local jobs and further improve the area’s quality of life.
For the entire day, some of the area’s brightest and most-visionary leaders sat down to talk shop about making the county a more viable player in the state’s big game of economic development.
What made this shop talk at Tooele Applied Technology College so exceptional? It was the first time in years that so many local business, organization, education and governmental leaders met face to face, in one room, for what may lead to a new, comprehensive economic development plan. Various economic development initiatives have been ongoing here for years by the county, Tooele and Grantsville cities, but not with a unified effort between the three and other local entities.
But as reported in today’s front-page story, “New economic development initiative may pull community together,”that thankfully may have changed Friday.
Called the “Tooele County Economic Development Strategic Planning Day,” the meeting was jointly organized by Tooele City and Tooele County, and facilitated by the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. From early morning to late in the afternoon, participants identified affordable land, education, low-cost energy, good climate, a ready work force, and a high quality of life as the county’s key economic strengths.
But attendees were also tasked to identify the county’s key economic weaknesses. And they didn’t hold back. Some that hit the list were a lack of immediately developable land with ready access to water, power, sewer and convenient transportation. Participants also noted perceptions that the county is financially unstable, relies heavily on a few categories of industry, and lacks a manufacturing-experienced workforce.
But the following additional concerns perhaps reveal an even deeper, more pernicious weakness that has gotten in the way of greater economic development achievements here for years.
Attendees noted that the county often suffers from petty, territorial squabbles that are — amazingly — often divided along high school boundary lines. In fact, the group further agreed that such clannish behavior, instead of unity, poses a real threat to any and all future economic development plans.
After such strengths and weakness were laid bare, the group next identified new goals for a county wide economic development initiative. On top of the list was the development of the long talked about Midvalley Highway to improve transportation infrastructure, and to align local educational services with employer needs.
Furthermore, participants want the Tooele Alliance for Education, Employment and Economic Development to take on a larger role, and they want a united mission statement and economic development plan that will encourage more community involvement and serve as a north star when vital decisions must be made.
Brad Baird, senior business development manager for EDCU, told attendees that “For a county your size, you have really done quite well the past few years,” in attracting new business and industry to the county. In light of new population projections from the state, which forecast the county’s current population of 60,000 will approach 160,000 by 2050, greater economic development achievements must be had to serve and support such growth.
What began last Friday is a vital first step to prepare for the future. Local leaders are encouraged to continue those steps with unity in mind.