December 1, 2011

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Southern Utah

Utah Business Staff

December 1, 2011

Leaders in Southern Utah are using the economic downturn to reassess growth and development strategies, positioning the area for a strong rebound once the economy turns around. Our participants discuss how education, economic development and tourism all play into creating a strong, diverse local economy.

We’d like to give a special thank you to Scott Hirschi, director of the Washington County Economic Development Council, for moderating the discussion.

Participants: John Ames, RE/MAX Tim Anderson, Jones Waldo Michael Benson, Southern Utah University Russel Clove, Marriott Courtyard Randy Cosby, InfoWest Bryson Despain, Sorensen & Wade Advertising Derek Ekker, Workers Compensation Fund Mark Hendrickson, Hendrickson/Butler Scott Hirschi, Washington County Economic Development Josh Little, Durham, Jones & Pinegar James MacPherson, Academy Mortgage Corporation Lowry Snow, Snow, Jensen & Reece Kelly Stevens, Sun River Brian Tenney, TCS Advertising Maria Twitchell, Cedar City Tourism Bureau Neil Walter, NAI Utah Commercial Real Estate Tracey Welsh, Red Mountain Resort Anthony White, St. George Lodging & Tourism Tyler Wilkinson, Soltis Investment Advisers Vicki Wilson, Intermountain Healthcare Brennen Wood, Cedar City Economic Development

What is the overall economic condition of and the future outlook for the greater St. George and Cedar City areas?

WALTER: The long-term outlook is very, very bright. I don’t know if people who have been through the recession are aware of how bright our future has the potential to be. People want to be in St. George.

If you look at the activity in our housing markets, our biggest challenge right now is going to be creating jobs. There are a lot of people that want to be here. It’s been 30 years since we’ve had stalled population growth like the one we just recently had. I don’t think it’s a long-term phenomenon. Any semblance of national recovery is going to accelerate interest in Washington County.

HENDRICKSON: We are seeing people interested in making moves in the community. There is a little trepidation—there is going to be some until we can see some stabilization on the national front. But people are looking at their options, how they can improve their situation. We grew really fast, and we have to stabilize right now a little bit. This slowdown has given us an opportunity to do that. Once we come out of that tentative nature, we’re going to be just fine.

STEVENS: Some of the other states need to get healthy for us to get healthy. The housing industry, for example, would be in better shape if southern Californians could sell their houses and move here. If people could sell their homes, we’d be right back in good times here.

The folks that we’re dealing with are the older people that say, “I’ve waited long enough. It’s not going to get better. I’ll take my beating here and come to Southern Utah and hopefully make a decent buy on a good home.” So we’re still seeing pretty good traffic, but not like we would see if the other states were healthy.

SNOW: The St. George Planning Department has informed me that the building permits taken out for residential units in the last quarter are the best they have been for the last two or three years. That news is promising.

But having said that, there is still a tentativeness about making any kind of long-range, significant plans or investments, and that clearly is related to the economy. I’d like to believe that’s changing, but that has existed in the market for the last two years.

HIRSCHI: My feeling is that we’re entering another decade much like we saw through the very late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when Utah’s Dixie and Iron County were discovered and growth just exploded forward. I’m hoping we don’t see very high growth. I’m not sure if that’s healthy for us—we’ve seen over the past couple of years some of the negative that comes from a bust/boom cycle. But I believe we’re just on the edge of very positive growth in our two communities.

What is the current state of the residential, commercial and industrial real estate markets in Southern Utah, and where will these markets be next year at this time?

AMES: We are continuing to see price reduction and price erosion—not in the lower-priced homes, because 70 to 80 percent of our volume is in the $250,000 and under price range. People can always afford to buy there. The place where we’re still seeing huge downward price pressure is in the $350,000 to million-plus price range. Homes in the $7 – $9 million range, we’re seeing 20 to 25 price reductions from the time they list to the time they actually sell, which is on the average of about 270 days right now. \

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