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Beaver — poster child for development?

State senator wants town to set an example

A new Beaver resident wants that city to become a poster child for rural economic development in Utah.

Sen. Bill Hickman, R-St. George, has purchased a home in Beaver and told the Rural Development Legislative Liaison Committee on Tuesday that many small southern Utah towns are suffering while others along the I-15 corridor are doing well.

"It leaves the little community of Beaver that just doesn't seem to have caught on to what has been happening in all these other communities," he said.

But Hickman said he and Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. "agreed that we probably ought to take a hard look at maybe using — and I'll use his term — using Beaver as a poster child or as a model to see what can actually be done in rural economic development in bringing all the parties together."

Hickman said implementation would not be simple due to utility and natural-resource issues, "but rather than doing a shotgun approach and saying each community gets a little bit of something, we would like to concentrate on this particular one and then utilize it to support other communities in the development that can take place there."

The senator stressed that something needs to happen, and soon.

"I don't want us to go through this process and just create a lot of dust and then nothing happens. I want to see something happen. And we've talked about economic development, particularly in rural Utah, for a long, long time, and we just haven't seen anything but an awful lot of dust, in my opinion," he said.

Ed Meyer, the state's rural development director, said several tools are in place "to go a long way toward preparing the community of Beaver to compete more effectively."

However, such a move would require significant investment locally, a commitment to improving infrastructure, realistic expectations for results and a policy about replicating those results.

"Whatever we do with Beaver, we need to be prepared to do in every other community," Meyer said. "That means that while we might be able to do a pilot project in Beaver, we need to decide how do we choose the next community, and that will be a fairly controversial process. If we dedicate resources to Beaver, are we prepared to dedicate those same resources to every other community in rural Utah?"

As for expectations, people should realize that despite preparations and investments to lure companies to a community, "the truth is that these are going to be business decisions," he said.

"We believe there are some different things that can be done. We think that there is a model that can be developed and replicated, but we need to take the time to make sure that we design it in a way where it can be sustained over time, and not just for Beaver, but for the other rural communities."

Sen. Scott Jenkins, R-Plain City, wondered if Beaver has enough people who want to live there to enable the community to compete.

"We actually do have people who live there who would like to have an opportunity to improve their economic life," Hickman replied. "They live there because they like to live there, even though they suffer economically from doing it, and we have a fairly large base that would love the opportunity to come back if there was something to do."

Jenkins said he supports trying to "showcase a little area" but added that he thinks "it's actually going to be a lot tougher than we think to do."

Hickman bristled at that remark.

"We spend a lot of time looking at reasons it can't happen, and we need to spend more time looking at ways to make it happen," he said. "It's easy to point out all all the problems we have and what we have to do and so on, but what we really need to do is make it happen. It just drives me crazy when we spend a lot of time doing just what I suggested, creating a lot of dust and stomping around and nothing happens."

The committee did not vote on the matter, although its co-chairman, Sen. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch, said he would present the proposal to the governor's office.

"Every community is special, especially when you get in these small communities of 2,500 or 3,000 or less," Hatch said. "Every one of them is unique and has their strengths and weaknesses, and it's hard to develop a model that works well in Brigham and Beaver, because they have different strengths and weaknesses. . . . We can take the things that can work in Brigham out of that and expand upon that. But we can't develop 'one size that fits all' that will guarantee success in every one of these communities."