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Online jobs initiative aims to stop export of young adults from rural Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — A proposed pilot project overseen by the Utah State University's county extension offices aims to boost rural online job opportunities in struggling areas of the state, where county leaders bemoan their biggest export is young adults who can't find jobs.

The measure by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, HB327, is in support of Utah Gov. Gary Herbert's rural jobs initiativethat seeks to grow 25,000 new jobs in rural Utah in five years.

Victor Iverson, a Washington County commissioner and a public lands official with the Utah Association of Counties, told members of the House Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Standing Committee that online opportunities can keep young adults in their home communities, if the state gets creative.

"We need to find a way to keep our young families here."

Darin Bushman, a Piute County commissioner, said his area lacks the necessary infrastructure to draw traditional economic development such as big interstates, a rail spur or even sufficient water.

He added that many people are either unemployed or underemployed, pointing to a school secretary with a master's degree.

"For every teacher position that comes open, there are 15 qualified teachers who want that job."

The measure directs USU to work with selected areas of the state over a three-year period for online job training at the high school and college level, picking those regions that particularly struggle with high unemployment but have access to high-speed internet.

USU is to particularly focus on scholarships and job recruitment training that includes freelance or remote opportunities.

Noel's bill comes with a $2.1 million allocation from the education fund and another $120,000 from the general fund and would require a report on progress by Nov. 1, 2020.

Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, has companion legislation, HB390, which creates the Rural Employment Expansion program within the Governor's Office of Economic Development. That measure would allow "post-employment incentives" to companies for every job created in targeted areas if certain conditions are met.

Multiple commissioners from throughout rural Utah testified at the early Thursday meeting in support of the rural online initiative.

"We are 100 percent on board with this. We are exporting our kids, and we need to figure out how to keep them and start thinking outside the box," said Beaver County Commissioner Tammy Pearson.

"Don't take this wrong, this is a nice place to visit," she said, referencing Salt Lake City. "But I can only handle about three days. … Our hearts are at home in southern Utah."