March 1, 2008

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Weber & Davis Counties

A Northern Windfall

Heather L. King

March 1, 2008

In 2007, Northern Utah continued to attract attention as a hub of business and residential activity along the Wasatch Front. As Utahns seek affordable homes, shorter commute times and a desire to be closer to the activities they enjoy, they are discovering that many of those needs can be filled by cities in Weber and Davis counties. From redevelopment efforts in Ogden’s downtown district to new business opportunities at Hill Air Force Base and the much-anticipated launch of FrontRunner, Weber County (home to Ogden and 21 other cities and towns known for their recreational and industrial opportunities) and Davis County (15 cities due north of Salt Lake City with centralized locations and military expertise) are attracting positive attention for the opportunities they offer. Recreational Mecca As a whole, Utah has long been known for its amazing outdoor activities. With skiing and snowboarding, fishing, hiking, rock climbing and hunting right out the front door, it’s an outdoor enthusiast’s heaven. But the northern Wasatch Front has often been overshadowed by the national parks in southern Utah and the ski resorts in Park City and Cottonwood Canyons. However, a change is underway. With the selection of Ogden as a major venue for the 2002 Olympic Games, the area began to draw much needed – and deserved – attention over the last five years. Ogden and Weber County been revitalized. Richard McConkie, deputy director of Ogden City Community and Economic Development, credits Ogden City Mayor Matthew Godfrey, who “has been very active in establishing Ogden as a high-adventure community.” In 2007, AmerSports (including brands Salomon, Atomic Ski, and Suunto) decided to move its North American headquarters to Ogden and now joins Descente, Scott USA, Goode Ski Technologies and 10 other outdoor product companies that call Ogden home. Salomon is now the anchor tenant in the American Can building, a historic warehouse that will boast 200,000 square feet of available space in the downtown area once renovation is complete. But the location and outdoor opportunities aren’t the only attractions for he industry, it also has something to do with the state’s expertise in advanced composite products. Advanced composites have far-reaching uses, including applications in the aerospace and outdoor industries. “One of the most important pieces of our future economy has to do with advanced composites,” says Jason Perry, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “In our state, we are particularly good at combining fiber and resin to create something that is harder than metal but a third of the weight. Almost the entire supply chain is located here... They’re making tennis rackets and skis and poles out of advanced composites as well.” That expertise is common to both counties, with Davis and Weber relying heavily on the aerospace and advanced composite industries. “Our backbone in employment has been in the manufacturing sector of the economy,” says Ron Kusina, executive director of Weber Economic Development Corporation (EDC). “We have the third strongest manufacturing by county in Utah, and aircraft and aerospace is our leading cluster. There have been significant in-roads with the recreational products over the last few years to further diversify and broaden our economy.” Workforce Shortage But success does come with a price. Utah’s record-low unemployment rate now seems commonplace, and companies across the state are still feeling the pressure to retain trained and educated employees and hire new workers as the economy prospers. “We could put 300 machinists to work this afternoon if I had them, and probably 300 welders,” Kusina says of Weber County. “We have nursing and medical-related shortages statewide.” Kusina and the Weber EDC are launching a major employee recruitment effort in seven mid-western states in hopes of bringing skilled and technically trained labor to Utah to meet demand. He explains that while his previous focus was on recruiting new businesses to the state, the current shortage of skilled workers puts him in uncharted territory. “I really can’t be too active in generating more companies because number one, companies that are looking to come to Weber County want to know about the workforce, and the companies that are here don’t need to have a new company come in and take their people.” The advertising campaign aims to answer the labor shortage, at least in the short term, by attracting auto workers and those with similar skills who can easily adapt to the aircraft and aerospace industry. The counties are also addressing the labor shortage by enlisting the help of the area colleges. “We are working with the Ogden Weber Applied Technology Center to have higher enrollments,” Kusina says. “We need to educate the general public about our lack of skilled workers because we don’t talk about technical training, and there is no seamless track from high school to technical schools. We have eliminated the technical track in our education, which is why we are having a difficult time meeting our needs.” He adds that 68 percent of jobs in Weber County require technical training but not a college degree. Davis Applied Technology College has also started work on a new technology/manufacturing building to answer the need for additional training in the auto, machining and advanced composite industries, as well as others. Business Park Opportunities Ultimately, attracting and retaining businesses will keep the economies of both areas healthy. Kent Sulser, manager of Davis County Community and Economic Development, is excited about two big projects near Hill Air Force Base – which is already Davis County’s largest employer – that he hopes will sustain last year’s 3.5 percent job growth in the county. An eventual 550-acre business park located in Layton near the east gate of Hill and also a west-side property development by Woodbury Corp. will “help solidify Hill and bring life-sustaining jobs to the community.” The Business Depot Ogden (BDO) which was once a 1,100 acre military distribution depot, is 95 percent leased. The property has been developed into an industrial and business park by The Boyer Company. Mixed Use in Northern Utah In addition to business parks, Northern Utah is seeing a spike in commercial and mixed-use developments. Davis County is looking forward to the opening of a number of mixed-use properties, including Station Park, which Sulser says will be, “much larger, more walkable and more attractive than The Gateway.” The Village at North Salt Lake is located on an old gravel pit and will feature condos and retail establishments. Midtown Village at Legend Hill in Clearfield is an eight-story complex including 263 luxury condos and a performing arts theater. It will hold the distinction of the first mixed-use development outside of Salt Lake City. “This development will be a major destination for both Clearfield residents and others in Davis and Weber counties, where people can live, work, shop, dine and be entertained all in one complex,” Clearfield Mayor Don Woods says. Similar conditions exist in Ogden, and a variety of mixed-use developments are slated to come online. The Junction, which was formerly the site of the Ogden City Mall, features a children’s museum, offices, condos and the High Adventure Recreation Center on approximately 20 acres. The Ogden River Project is a 60-acre redevelopment project north of the business district that will feature urban living and small-scale commercial enterprises. Midtown Village will include a $115 million, 12- to 14-story building with condos, 55,000 square feet of retail space and a hotel with a family oriented water park. Additionally, the developers of the former Ben Lomond Hotel are excited about the property’s proximity to the Ogden FrontRunner station, McConkie says, because, “They anticipate that there will be a demand for condo housing that is within walking distance of FrontRunner.” FrontRunner will play an increasingly important role in the continued growth of Northern Utah as traffic issues persist. Utah Transit Authority’s commuter rail is set to begin service in the spring and will connect a 44-mile corridor from Pleasant View to Salt Lake City. Davis County will have four Frontrunner stops: Clearfield, Layton, Farmington and Woods Cross; Weber County has one in Roy, Ogden and Pleasant View. Sulser expects that just a 5 percent ridership from Davis County residents will reduce traffic congestion along I-15. Northern Utah is also looking at new ways to encourage entrepreneurial success in the area. Weber, Davis and Morgan Counties are collaborating with Weber State University to promote a project led by Grow Utah Ventures, a venture capital organization that assists early stage Utah businesses. “We are now working on a program called SEED Weber/Morgan/Davis to create more entrepreneurs and home-grown business,” Kusina explains. “We are trying to embrace more of the economic potential than just recruiting new companies. More energy is going toward helping grow the the companies that are here and pushing entrepreneurship and local business development.”
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