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Sky’s the limit for SkyWest

Setting priorities pays off, says chief of regional airline

SHARE Sky’s the limit for SkyWest

When Jerry Atkin started working for SkyWest Airlines 28 years ago, he spent most of his time answering calls from creditors wanting to know when they would get paid.

"We had no money to pay. It was the most miserable year of my life," said Atkin, president and chief executive officer of St. George-based SkyWest. "At the same time, I probably learned more in that year than ever before."

Atkin's remarks Thursday at an annual corporate breakfast by the Coalition for Utah's Future traced SkyWest's climb from a near defunct company to one that today is the nation's ninth-largest regional carrier.

"If you do the right quality things with some efficiency, some good things come out of that," Atkin said.

He said the success of the airline, which now employs 5,000 people and reported $600 million in revenue last year, was a direct result of asking, "What's important?"

That same question was fielded by the roughly 130 business, education and civic leaders in attendance who were asked what issues were vital to a better Utah.

"Why not discuss the birth rate in the state?" asked Mike Arnow, president of Gold Bell Productions, adding that the question deserved more discussion.

The state's population during the 1990s grew 30 percent, according to the 2000 U.S. Census. And in the next 20 years, two-thirds of the projected 1 million more people expected to be here will be Utahns' own children and grandchildren.

In fact, growth is probably the coalition's most best-known issue. It sponsored Envision Utah, a public project designed to protect Utah's environment and economic strength.

And much of Thursday's discussion centered on requests to improve mass transit, implement walkable communities and ensure clean air and water.

"We need to debunk the myth that we are entitled to a rural lifestyle of one acre with a horse out back," said John Lund, president of Snow Christensen, a Salt Lake law firm. Lund said that thinking disenfranchises people, like those living in condominiums or high-density areas.

Other ideas focused on education, involving youths in the planning process and building a regional destination airport in southern Utah that would serve to connect the state and fuel economic growth.

Jack Wixom, vice president of development for Jacobsen Construction, suggested the Legislature needs to implement deficit spending as the economy continues to work its way through the current recession.

A large bond issue for construction projects by the state would have a multiplier effect on other industries, he said.

Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey urged cities to plan for housing in urban areas.

Big-box malls, like the Ogden City Mall that will be torn down by the city, are a thing of the past, Godfrey said.

"That takes courage," said Richard Bennion, president of Collier's Property Management.

The group's suggestions will be passed on to the coalition's executive committee, said Kevin Fayles, development manager for the coalition.

"The window is right now to put in place these ideas," Fayles said.


E-MAIL: danderton@desnews.com