January 18, 2013

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Northern Utah Moving Forward but Could Face Setbacks

Di Lewis

January 18, 2013

A group of business and community leaders said Weber and Davis counties are looking up economically, but without steady employment growth and support for Hill Air Force Base, gains in housing and business are at risk. The group was attending Utah Business magazine’s Weber/Davis roundtable Thursday morning.

“It looks as though for us the downturn in the economy is turning up,” said Steve Curtis, Layton mayor.

Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell agreed, saying properties that have been vacant for years are now occupied and he sees smaller businesses and community growth driving an increase in sales taxes.

Davis County Commissioner Louenda Downs added that as more retail comes in, professional occupancy will grow too.

However the restricted availability of liquor licenses is also restricting economic growth in the city, Curtis said. “When there aren’t the liquor licenses for these restaurants, national major restaurant people, if they can’t acquire a liquor license, they’re not coming. It definitely straps the community and that’s one thing I hope the legislature addresses.”

Liquor laws that are perceived as odd aren’t just a tourism issue either, said Barbara Riddle, president and CEO of the Davis Area Conventions and Visitors Bureau. Riddle says those laws are really an economic development issue because companies are put off by what they see as strange laws when considering locating in Utah.

While Utah’s real estate is improving in residential and commercial, Vickie McCall said that unless national and regional employment numbers continue to improve the growth in housing will not last for more than a year or two.

On the plus side, Cari Fullerton, senior vice president at Bank of Utah, said businesses are now deploying cash they’ve been holding on to during the recession.

“When we look at business financial statements, they’re bruised,” Fulleron said. “They’ve taken a beating and those people that have survived, I won’t say they’re thriving. I think they’re stable. They’re not adding employment. They’re not building buildings. The flip side to that is there’s a lot of cash on the sidelines.”

Growth in business also needs new businesses, said Alex Lawrence, vice provost for innovation and economic development at Weber State University.

“When you move a business from one place to another you have a winner and a loser. The one county loses jobs and a company and the other county picks it up,” he said. “I’m also not a fan of necessarily spending a lot of time and money trying to get companies from out of state to move here… Real job creation happens from companies that are newer that are smaller.”

A transcript of the discussion will be published in the March issue of Utah Business.

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