Cox says Iron County ‘Ahead of the Curve’ in economic development

By Tom Haraldsen
Managing Editor

CEDAR CITY—When Utah Gov. Gary Herbert gave his State of the State address in January, one of his stated priorities was the 25,000 Job Initiative. The goal of that program—create 25,000 new jobs in Utah’s 25 rural counties over the next four years.

At last Thursday’s Economic Summit presented by the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox pointed to some of the progress Iron County has already made in bringing in new jobs and fostering economic development.

“You guys are ahead of the curve,” he told a sold out audience in the Great Hall at Southern Utah University. “We have major employers who are interested in expanding into the rural sectors of our state, places where there are people ready to work and land where they can build plants and infrastructure. Iron County has made a major strive in both directions, and the future here looks bright.”

Cox was mayor of Fairview before being selected by Herbert as his lieutenant governor. Because of his experience in a small rural community, Herbert tapped him to lead the charge for the jobs’ initiative, including the 25K Jobs Tour that Cox and representatives from the World Trade Center Utah have embarked on along with state legislators.

“Members of the legislature are going out into rural counties—we’ve visited 13 so far—and it’s been very eye-opening for them,” Cox said. “We’ve taken what we’ve observed and reached back to employers who want to expand in and/or come to Utah. We’ve asked them to come up with a rural strategy. We ask them if the jobs they want to fill really have to be just along the Wasatch Front. And we’re seeing more and more interest from them in other areas outside of the four largest counties.”

One thing that employers have expressed to Cox and his team is that the quality of the workforce and the locale is more important than just numbers (population and city size). “We have major employers who are interested in this initiative. For the first time, we’re seeing a bottom up approach from business decision makers. That bodes well for rural economic development growth.”

One concern that Cox expressed, and one that’s shared by local leaders, is the wage gap between jobs in the busiest four counties and those outside of them.

“In 2010, wages in Iron County were on average 71 percent of the state’s average,” he said. “This year, that number has dropped to 69 percent. So this remains a big concern for us, and something we’re working on with employers as well.”

Coincidentally, the Utah STEM Action Center announced on Friday the Utah K-16 Computing Initiative, which addresses the need for more high-tech, high-wage opportunities in rural Utah.

The K-16 Computing Initiative supports schools and districts in building computing programs. It will especially target rural communities, where computing skills can be leveraged for working remotely.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to support all Utah students and teachers and the communities they call home,” said Dr. Tamara Goetz, executive director of the Utah STEM Action Center. “Computing knowledge and skills cut across nearly every educational discipline and every industry in our state. We are grateful for the governor’s 25k Jobs Initiative to create an opportunity to better leverage state resources for Utah’s rural communities.”

The State Legislature provided $1.255 million in ongoing funds during the 2017 Legislative Session, and the grant program launched in early August.

There are more than 8,000 tech jobs open in Utah today and not enough talent to fill those jobs. Nationwide, computing occupations are now the number one source of new wages.

Industry members who have stepped-up to address the computing shortage in Utah and joined the Utah K-16 Computing Initiative advisory committee include: Dell EMC, Adobe, Ivanti, 3M, Comcast, Oracle, Microsoft, IMFlash, InsideSales, OCTanner, Hill Air Force Base, Orbital ATK, Google Fiber, Accelerant, Utah Digital Entertainment Network, BAE Systems, AT&T, Vivint, Utah Technology Council, Womens Tech Council and Silicon Slopes.

CAPTION: Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox took time to talk with community members following his address at the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce’s Economic Summit. Photo by Tom Haraldsen/Iron County Today

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