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Tremonton, in Box Elder County, lost 630 jobs in 2008 when Lay-Z-Boy moved its manufacturing to Mexico. The county continues to bleed jobs through Alliant Techsystems’ (ATK) past and upcoming layoffs. Nonfarm employment in the county is down 4.3 percent year over year. Nonetheless, the economic outlook is on the upswing, according to Paul Larsen, Brigham City’s economic development director.
“It was a dismal environment when ATK was laying people off,” he says. “We had 9.8 percent unemployment. It has come down to 5.8 percent, unofficially, and I think there is a little more optimism than there was a few years ago.”
A lot of the new optimism has to do with key economic events that are taking shape in the county. For one, the LDS Church’s Brigham City Temple is complete, which has brought an increased amount of economic activity downtown.
Further, Mitch Zundel, economic development director for Box Elder County, says he is seeing increased interest from entrepreneurs looking to start businesses and from existing businesses that are talking about expansions.
For example, West Liberty Foods recently announced that it would expand its operations in the county. That’s actually the third expansion at the plant since 2007; however, Larsen and Zundel say they haven’t heard of any job increases along with the company’s latest expansion plans–not yet, anyway. Zundel and Larsen expect the expansion will increase jobs eventually.
Meanwhile, a poultry concern is in the process of finalizing the financing for a poultry operation in the county. Larsen says the company would make a $307 million capital investment by building a hatchery, granary and growout houses in the unincorporated county, and a processing plant within Brigham City. Initial employment would be about 591 workers, but the number of jobs could increase to more than 1,000. There’s also talk of a gold mining operation starting up on the northwest side of the county.
Using $100,000 in grant money from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah and other state and local agencies and businesses, Brigham City hired BetterCity, an economic development consulting firm led by former Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey, to do an industry cluster analysis to determine which industries are most ripe for growth. The analysis is focusing on the aerospace and composites, structural steel, agricultural and shooting sports industries.
“We are trying to go at our economic development from all directions: recruitment, expansion of existing businesses and helping entrepreneurs to get new businesses started,” says Larsen.