Remote Utah counties need more than freeways and capital to develop jobs. Bette Stanton says they could do with some attention from the rest of the state.
"We could pull away from Utah and they wouldn't even miss us," grumbles Stanton, director of economic and community development in Grand County. "The rural Utah economic development program has done zilch for us."Rather than trying to entice companies to locate in isolated communities, she says, the state's economic developers go for the easy sell: St. George and Cedar City.
She concedes that government programs to train those starting companies and to provide low-interest loans for young companies are good. But the successes are undercut by the snub rural Utahns get from the state.
For instance, she noted the governor's veto this month of legislation that might have kept a Moab winery in business and the failure of the Legislature to allow pari-mutuel betting. That would have been a boon to Moab's new equestrian center.
"If the state isn't going to do it, pass the money down to us and let us do it," says Stanton, who also runs the Moab Film Commission.
Grand County needs help to diversify away from tourism, Stanton says. The county lost one-third of its tax base when the mining industry dwindled in the 1980s, and hasn't regained it.
That means the roads, hospital, ambulances, county jail and other infrastructure needed to support a tourist-swollen population of 20,000 is supported by low-paying seasonal wages of 4,000 to 5,000 permanent residents.
Five new motels are being built in Moab, Stanton says, but "those motels aren't a drop in the bucket when compared with one oil well."
Grand County will use one tool that worked the last time it needed new jobs: the awesome beauty of the slick rock country of Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
Visitors capable of relocating or starting companies may fall in love and never leave. "That's one of the biggest assets of tourism," she says.
But she warns other communities not to believe the rhetoric about tourism: "When people preach that tourism is the answer, it's like a stab in the back . . . One oil well could help us get back our tax base, where the tourists don't."