December 1, 2011

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Mark Tuffin



Southern Utah

Utah Business Staff

December 1, 2011

One of the benefits of going through a downturn is it allows us to prepare for the next upturn. We’ve been able to do that effectively in Washington County with the new airport so that when the economy does turn, that infrastructure will be in place. It will be a great advantage for promoting economic development in Southern Utah.

Discuss the area’s workforce and employment trends.

LITTLE: The real issue we have is jobs. We have a lot of people that want to move here. Do we have jobs that they’ll move here for? Do we have jobs for their kids? Do we have jobs that are outside of the real estate development community? Historically that’s been the growth part of our community.

I’ve been involved in the SEED Dixie program, which stands for stimulating expansion of entrepreneurial development. It’s through USTAR and economic development in the area. We have been trying to build non-real estate industries—not only, but most importantly, technology businesses. I think it’s improving. Is it there? No, but it’s improving.

Over the long term, we hope to build a base of technology companies in the community because that’s where we can have large growth, and we can have jobs that do pay better than your typical job in the area.

COSBY: At the Southern Utah Technical Council, we had a small group initially, but now we’re over 120 members. We did have that skill set right here in our backyard, and we have a hard time in Iron County/Cedar City attracting technology-driven companies just because of our population. So we’re looking to grow from within, from two to 10 companies to 25 companies to 50 companies—grow that route as opposed to attracting large companies from outside of the area.

EKKER: The key to the growth of high-tech jobs in Southwestern Utah really is linked to education. It’s critically important that SUU and Dixie State College offer the degrees and courses necessary to grow the workforce to meet the needs of the high-tech industry. You’ll see a piggy-backing effect—when you have the education in place, you’ll see high-tech companies come to Utah, establish themselves and grow.

HENDRICKSON: Are the conditions in place to help them grow? I think they are. Those are part of the investments that Southern Utah has made in its future. We have Southern Utah University, we have Dixie State College, and both presidents understand what they need to do in the communities to help. We have built a new airport. Does that mean we have instant jobs? No. But if you build it, they will come.

We have great infrastructure in Southern Utah: Interlease, and the partnership that Infowest has and this beautiful technology park. Cedar City has the raw lands to be developed. If we can just keep fostering this brotherhood of innovation and support—that’s just as critical as anything we can do right now.

WILSON: Although many people view healthcare as employing clinical folks, there is really a technology hub within the walls of any hospital. And having skilled employees has been key to our growth. One of our key growth strategies has been working with higher ed to create the kinds of workers we need to fill our positions. And we’re still poised for great growth in healthcare. The demographics aren’t going to change; the baby boomers are going to get older and need more healthcare services.

When you look at the importance of education and healthcare in driving the economics here, it can’t be understated. Not many people are going to move to a community in large numbers without solid healthcare, so all of that comes together.

Are the public schools and higher ed institutions producing graduates that meet the local demands for employers?

BENSON: We’re doing our best to try and produce the graduates that fit your needs. The quality of our students, of our faculty and staff continues every year incrementally to go up, and that is going to address some of the needs you all have.

Our participation rates and our graduation rates have got to improve. Particularly for 18- to 24-year-old males. The challenge is there are hourly jobs out there that a kid coming out of high school may be enticed to go and do. We have got to do a better job to capture that male cohort, because our numbers are about 65/35 female to male.

Our enrollment went slightly down this year because we actually increased our admission requirements. But over four years, we’ve increased our graduation rate 9 percent, and that to me is the most important barometer.

WHITE: It goes back to the problem that there are no jobs. They think, “I’m a sophomore now, I can go get this hourly job, or if I go two more years there is not going to be a job.”

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