December 1, 2011

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Southern Utah

Utah Business Staff

December 1, 2011

BENSON: It really ties into the secondary and high schools. The board of regents has stressed very, very strongly this Utah Regents Scholar program, where they try and get kids as freshmen to commit to four years of math, two years of foreign language, three years of science. I’m seeing more and more cooperation to make sure the kids are coming into a pipeline as freshmen more prepared for college-level work.

WALTER: I support tightening up the admission requirements because what you’re doing is saying, “We want you to be committed when you show up.” And for those that are committed, we’ll see increased graduation. But just widening the funnel doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to increase graduation.

AMES: Part of the challenge we have for our younger families here, and I see this on a regular basis, is their starting salaries. We need to find new ways to generate higher salaries for our low- to medium- income residents that will help locals stay here and attract more entrepreneurs to our economy.

There has been some decrease in the unemployment rate, although not significant. Are we going to continue with high unemployment, or is that going to inch down?

WILSON: Southern Utah’s unemployment rate has been higher than Utah in general. Of course, that has been because of our boom/bust cycle is a little stronger. The impact for us is that we do see a large increase in the number of applicants for a position. We average well over 100 applicants for every position at the hospital right now. So it puts us in a position of being able to select the very best. Also, our turnover rates have been very low in the last year or two. Anytime you have a short supply of jobs, you do tend to benefit from that internal rate.

There is a downside for us as a large employer with the lack of jobs in our community. Many people want to come here and they need employment for their spouses or children. So some of our turnover is due to spouses losing employment and people having to relocate to other areas.

EKKER: In Utah we have the lowest workers compensation rate for manufacturing in the nation, and also overall the workers compensation rates are the lowest in the nation. That’s attractive to a lot of companies who want to relocate in Southwestern Utah.

According to Workforce Services, in September the unemployment rate for Washington County was 9.3 percent, in Iron County it was 9.1 percent, and overall in the state of Utah it was 7.6 percent. So lagging unemployment is a significant issue for Southwestern Utah.

Both Iron and Washington counties are well known for quality of life. One concern is that as we grow, we’ll lose some of the qualities of life that we have. Where are we headed from a quality of life standpoint?

WILKINSON: Having been raised here and seeing a lot of changes over the years, I love and miss certain aspects of small Southern Utah. But it’s neat to see the growth and the quality changes and great people that have come here.

WOOD: Sometimes people think quality of life and economic development are opposing factors. That is not true. Within economic development, behind the scenes, we talk about creating jobs for our children because we want to keep them here. Too often we hear about someone’s child who had to leave because they couldn’t find a job.

When we talk about growing the economy, always in the same conversation we talk about increasing the quality of life for our residents. I think residents need to know that’s always on the table when we talk about bringing in a new company or helping a small business grow—it’s how is this going to affect the quality of life for our residents.

AMES: They will never stop coming to St. George. It’s impossible for us to screw it up in St. George—if we can survive economically the next 10 years. There is no place else like St. George: biking, hiking, fishing, camping, swimming, dirt biking, ATV; an hour and 10 minutes to Las Vegas; Zions, Grand Canyon, Bryce, Capital Reef; every sport and activity you can imagine, we have it all within an hour and a half. They will always keep coming here.

SNOW: One of the challenges of having the best of both worlds moving into the future will be a test of leadership and vision of the leaders. I’m incredibly optimistic. I think Washington County/Iron County has done a great job of coordinating the efforts of all of the stakeholders in that effort.

But that’s going to continue into the future as well. Balancing the quality of life with a vibrant growing economy will take a large measure of planning, determining what the quality of life is that we want to maintain, while at the same time determining what kind of an economy we want to attract. The future is bright, but it will depend on who our leaders are and the dedication of the people who become involved in that process.

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