1990s bring Utah growth surge unparalleled since '70s. Story on B1.

A decade ago, Cedar City was in the dumps. The iron mines had shut down, taking 500 lucrative jobs with them, 400 houses were for sale and the jobless rate hovered around 8 percent.

The town of 11,500, nestled against rust-colored, cedar-covered hills a short drive from southern Utah's national parks, foundered through much of the 1980s.Then its leaders picked themselves up, dusted off and embarked on an industrial recovery that has turned Cedar City into one of the hot spots of Utah's economy.

The city has attracted 15 diverse manufacturing plants with 1,300 jobs since 1988, its college has gained university status and enrollment has nearly tripled to 4,900. And its highly regarded Shakespearean festival pumps $20 million a year into the economy.

Today, 17,000 people live in Cedar City, the hub of a county with a jobless rate of 3.7 percent.

Mayor Harold Shirley said the city was willing to pay to get what it wanted. For each of the past five years, the council has spent $120,000 to send recruiters to woo businesses, primarily in California.

"If you wish for something but don't put money up, it's like standing on a street corner and hoping for a roast duck to fly into your mouth," Shirley says.

Frank Berrett, who ran a music store before the early 1980s, said the businesses that survived are thriving. "These people are giggling all the way to the bank," said Berrett, now executive director of the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce.

Longtime residents are watching their property values soar. The average home that sold for $67,500 in 1989 now sells for $95,000.

The town has attracted diverse industry - for example, Western Electrochemical Corp., a solid rocket fuel maker; Goer Manufacturing West, maker of display cases, and Western Quality Food Products, which makes dairy products with a long shelf life. Most are California refugees.

Tourism has blossomed, too; there now are 22 motels and four bed and breakfast inns. The Utah Summer Games, launched in the late 1980s, attracts 10,000 Utahns for a week each summer.

"We've diversified quite nicely," said Alan Hamlin, an economics professor at Southern Utah University and the city council member who spearheaded the development thrust beginning in 1988.

"But for every 100 jobs we create, there's 1,000 people who want to live here," Hamlin said.

As Shirley puts it, "People all over the West are saying, `I want something other than what I've got,' and they're finding it in southern Utah."

The growth has put a strain on services.

Pete Hansen, Cedar City's police chief, says the serious crime rate has remained stable, but the sheer number of calls for help has skyrocketed. Yet his force of 17 officers is the same as it was in 1989.

"It's a juggling act," Hansen said.

Scott Burns, the county attorney, is pleading with the Iron County Commission to pay for two more attorneys and two more secretaries, which would more than double his staff. The number of criminal charges has risen from 267 in 1987 to a predicted 720 this year, he said.

His office has been so strapped that Wal-Mart and Lin's supermarkets pay the salary of a part-time secretary to process theft charges.

"There's something wrong with that, but I was running out of options," Burns said, illustrating his point with a jest: "Is it going to get to the point where someone pays me to prosecute their aggravated assault?"

The fast growth has detractors.

"I hate to see this little town growing so fast," says Karen Stratton, a nearly 30-year resident. "It's not the quiet, nice pace anymore. It's losing its small-town charm."

She and others in her family have had three traffic accidents with university students on the city's increasingly congested streets. Her house, which she'd never locked, was robbed this year.

Stratton also objects to the apartments springing up everywhere to accommodate the growing university. Half of them are less than two years old.

Another consequence of a high quality of life, an educated and industrious work force, and plentiful job-seekers is low wages.

"Any business in their right mind would find that attractive, but what they do is find the prevailing wage and pay it," Hamlin said.

That means the average worker earns $15,744 per year in Iron County, compared to $21,612 for all of Utah.

"It has all kinds of social ramifications when you pay people $5, $6, $7 an hour," he said. "What that results in is stress and strain and a reduced tax base."

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Consequently, Hamlin this year pushed the council to adopt a choosy approach to industrial recruitment. Now if a company seeking to locate wants economic incentives, it must pay 10 percent above the prevailing wage. The incentives go only to light manufacturing or service companies.

City leaders have fixed on an end to the population spiral; the water system can handle 40,000 and that's the upper limit.

"I'd like to see 25,000. That would be just fine with me if we could shut off the faucet there," says Hamlin.

But, he acknowledges, "Some want to shut the door right now."

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