March 9, 2009

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Sitting the Bench

The 2008 end-of-year fiscal reports show it: Americans reconsidered their spe...Read More

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Weber & Davis Counties

Cautiously Optimistic

Janine S. Creager

March 9, 2009

Standing before an economic forum of the Davis Economic Advisory Commission, John Pitt, president and CEO of the Davis Chamber of Commerce, drew on a well-known metaphor. He took off his shoes, dropped one to the ground, and held the other one expectantly aloft. The analogy was not lost on those present. Given recent economic conditions, waiting for that other shoe to drop has been on most people’s minds. “People [in the meeting] recognized that is the case,” says Pitt. “They have seen a decline in business over the past months. It’s not massive job loss, [but it has mostly] been because of a hesitancy in expansion—would we have the same fallout as elsewhere.” Fortunately, he continues, “Every indicators show that Davis County and northern Utah are still very strong.” Davis County Pitt senses a watch-and-wait mood in Davis County. But, even this hesitancy is trimmed with hope. “In general, I think I’m hoping that within the next few months, Davis County will come out of the wait-and-see mode,” he says. “While we have a good number of real estate agents that have been affected, Davis County has been shielded from the worst of the economic impact that people have felt.” In spite of slower residential building, Pitt cites two commercial retail projects to the west and east of Hill Air Force Base as a sign that business has not come to a screeching halt in the county. On the west side is the 500-acre Falcon Hill National Aerospace Research Park, located between Clearfield and Layton. While the site will support Hill Air Force Base with hotel, office and retail businesses, it will also be open to the general public. To add further support to the base, the city of Layton is planning the East Gate Industrial/Business Park Development, a 600-acre project adjacent to the east border of Hill Air Force Base. Hill Air Force Base is constructing an entrance gate on the east side to facilitate contractor access to the Base. To aid in the economic growth of the county, an expanding partnership between business and education is also taking shape. This is particularly crucial to the manufacturing industry, for which the growth and success of Hill Air Force Base is dependent on, as well as to companies in the public sector. A new Manufacturing and Technology Building is also set to be completed this year at the Davis Applied Technology Center in Kaysville. The building will be the home of several disciplines, including machine tool technology, diesel technology, electronics, industrial maintenance and drafting. But Davis County is not all work and no play. Although the county does not have a ski center of its own, its position between resorts to the north and the south make it an ideal stopover. “We need to market ourselves as a staying location,” says Pitt, who also mentions the shoreline and urban trails available in the county. And, then there is Antelope Island, a largely unappreciated “jewel,” according to Pitt. Beyond increasing county support of local businesses, as well as create a greater awareness of what Davis County has to offer, Pitt feels that Davis County residents can also help bring the area out of the current economic slump. “Our hope is that people will recognize that [they] need to . . . be smarter, be more careful, but not just stop spending [because of] what may be happening elsewhere,” says Pitt, adding that they should look at their own individual finances and do what makes sense. Weber County Weber County officials hold the same philosophy as Davis County officials regarding today’s economic condition: wait and see what happens before making any major moves. “No question—our biggest issue is with the economy,” says Dave Hardman, president and CEO of the Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce. “The Business Depot Ogden has a lot of people in the wings [wondering whether to lease space there]. People are a little nervous about what’s going on.” In almost the same breath, however, Hardman shares his confidence. “Fortunately, we have a very diverse economy in the county. Our aerospace industry is by far the strongest side of our economy.” As in Davis County, Weber County is concentrating on meeting its increased need for technical training. “Though Utah is a very high tech, professional state, the reality is that we still have about 65 percent of our people needing technical training—not college,” says Ron Kusina, executive director of the Weber Economic Development Corporation. “Of that little shortage—on one hand, it has held companies back from [hiring more] people, but the economy is dampening that.” On the flipside, Kusina says that many companies are doing whatever it takes to retain their current employees, knowing that if they let them go, they might be hard-pressed to fill those positions once the economy turns. “In general,” says Kusina, “I think we can say we are weathering the storm on our manufacturing base . . . I think we’re going to be OK in that [sector].” Kusina is also concerned about the lack of space in Ogden’s industrial parks “We have sold the last lots in some. The only game in town is the Business Depot Park,” he says. “A prospect [looking to build his or her own place] is undoable right now. We have this incredible need, and we’re missing a need. That issue is going to play out in the future months.” While industrial park space may be currently limited, Ogden’s recreation industry has grown in leaps and bounds in recent years. The presence of Olympic venues in the county in 2002 put the industry in motion, and it has been growing ever since. “We have seen a lot of growth in our hospitality industry to attract people to come in for the ski industry,” says Hardman. “People just have an affinity to be here to see what is going on. It used to be that we had all these venues, but now we have outfitters that provide all the equipment [and guides] giving us a leg up in bringing people in, even from Europe.” Beyond the skiing and outfitting businesses, the county’s recreational opportunities have expanded into the hospitality industry; hotels, small restaurants and vacation condos to name a few. And for those who prefer indoor recreation, downtown Ogden is the place to go. The Salomon Center, located at The Junction, includes a 55-foot tall climbing wall and simulated surfing and skydiving facilities. “That’s the kind of thing we’re seeing grow,” says Hardman. “We have a lot of new restaurants coming on. The retail will start opening this spring and most of the new commercial buildings are mostly full. We love to see the growth there. We think that core will continue to expand.” In speaking about the region’s economic future, John Pitt spelled out the signs of recovery that everyone is looking for in the coming days. “Residential and commercial prices are holding. The good news is that we haven’t had the tremendous job loss that other places have had,” he says. “We’re starting from a better place than most places.”
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