July 1, 2008
There’s a good chance if you take an early morning drive through St. George, you’ll see Scott Hirschi running by. With the beautiful red rock scenery and temperate climate, Hirschi says his morning exercise helps clear his mind, invigorating him for the day. As director of the Washington County Development Council, Hirschi needs all the peace he can get.
With population doubling at each census since 1970, growth in the southwest corner of Utah has exploded. If projections are accurate, the county’s population will increase from 150,000 to 600,000 in the next 30 years. Hirschi’s job is to attract new development to the area, find creative ways to use limited land space and convince residents that growth is a good thing.
“Most people say their reason for opposing development is it increases traffic, population and crime,” Hirschi says. “But I think most people believe they’ve found Shangri-La and are afraid if others find it, its unique qualities will be diminished.”
Three major occurrences have contributed to the county’s growth, Hirschi says. First, the affordability of air conditioning allows people to live in the hot, desert area. Second, the completion of Interstate-15, from Las Vegas to Salt Lake, encourages visitors to stop and enjoy the scenery. Third, as avid golfers have discovered the area, 12 golf courses have been developed for residents and vacationers who enjoy the outdoor recreation of Washington County.
As a St. George native, Hirschi is a firsthand witness to the changes in the area. Where mail order used to be the only way to shop, retailers now offer consumers almost any product they need. Recreational opportunities, social events, education and travel have all benefited from the popularity of the St. George area.
“We will continue to grow and be attractive to families and businesses,” Hirschi says. “In my 60 years here, growth has been a positive experience.”
One major project in St. George could send economic development sky-high — literally. Scheduled to open in 2012, a new regional airport will provide safer and more convenient air travel for commuters going between St. George and Salt Lake or Los Angeles. The proposed 9,200-foot runway is much longer and wider than the current airport’s, allowing commercial jet airlines into the area for the first time. The airport could also keep SkyWest’s corporate offices (employing 650 residents) in St. George.
But a possible collaboration between the University of Utah and Dixie State College (DSC) is what has Hirschi especially excited. The venture would designate DSC an extension of the university, becoming the University of Utah at St. George. Before stepping down from his post, former DSC President Lee Caldwell had high expectations for the proposal, which would bring a significant increase in educational choices to the region.
Because he’s a lifelong resident of St. George, Hirschi wants to see the area succeed, continue to grow and persist in being a vital economic force for the state. He’s developed a reputation for complete honesty in his business dealings for the county, and although Hirschi is a humble man, there’s one thing he’s absolutely convinced is true.
“What I know for sure is Washington County is the greatest place in the world to live,” Hirschi says. “We have the best-looking children and grandchildren.” With his reputation for honesty, you have to believe him.