Southern Utah’s ‘Goldilocks’ economy forecasts well for 2014

2014 Washington County Economic Summit, St. George, Utah, Jan. 16, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Speakers and people attending the 2014 “What’s Up Down South” Washington County Economic Summit Thursday expressed optimism for the region’s economic future. A positive forecast of the regional economy was given during the summit and new and expanding businesses showcased.

Washington County, the state, and beyond

Lecia Langston, regional economist with the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said Washington County is currently in a “Goldilocks economy;” conditions aren’t too hot or too cold for continued economic growth.

“We like nice, moderate growth,” Langston said. For the last two years she said the economy has been just right with an average of 5-6 percent job growth. The current level of growth statewide is 3 percent, she said.

Nearly every job sector is seeing job growth, Langston said, and added Washington County’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.6 percent. Construction job numbers are also just about where they were before the housing bubble hit, she said.

Along with job growth, wages and home prices are also up in the region, adding to a favorable economic forecast for 2014.

Everything is where we want to be,” she said, “we are in the Goldilocks zone.”

Washington County is doing well because the state is doing well, said Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank. “Our success is tied to the success of the our state,” he said.

Utah currently has the fourth most diverse economy in the nation and continues to be recognized by Forbes Magazine as one of the best states for business, Anderson said. Parts of Utah, like Salt Lake City and Provo, are also considered leaders in economic technology development.

Consumer confidence is also high. “Utahns are optimistic about their household income,” Anderson said.

Both Langston and Anderson said they are bullish about the county and state’s future based on economic projections.

Globally, Randy Shumway, of the Cicero Group, said things are improving as well. Europe and South America are doing better, he said. China’s economy is also still growing, he said, albeit at a somewhat slower rate.

In the short term, Shumway said to expect the economy to continue to improve. In the long term, he said the United States needs to continue strengthening trade relations, along with addressing and possibly reforming elements of federal spending. If left unchecked, the federal government’s financial dysfunction could negatively impact the economy in the future.

St. George and Washington City

I’m very optimistic about where St. George will be in 2014 and 2015,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said. “I really think we have a lot of opportunity to attract business.”

While the center of St. George may appear to be built out, Pike said the city has the potential to double in size in the future – speaking in particular about the land around Interstate 15 Exit 2. The exit takes motorists to the St. George Municipal Airport and is also a part of the Southern Parkway. There are thousands of acres there that can be developed for residential, commercial and industrial use, he said.

Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson is also looking forward to the coming year, noting 2013 was a good year for Washington economically.

We’re looking for an even better year in 2014 than 2013,” Neilson said. The year “2013 for Washington City in sales tax was the best that the city has ever had.”

Washington City is full of prime locations for commercial expansion, Neilson said, mentioning the area around I-15 Exit 13 specifically. “That’s been a really big area of interest in Southern Utah,” he said, and that many companies have inquired about it.

“As soon as we see more development out there, I think it’s going to explode,” Scott Hirschi, of Site Select Plus, also said of the Exit 13-Washington Parkway area.

Other areas likely to see more commercial development in the future are Santa Clara and Ivins, Hirschi said, noting that “commercial follows rooftops.” As those communities continue to grow, so will the demand for businesses and services closer to home.

Site Select Plus, tech-based business, and a skilled, educated workforce 

During the summit it was announced that the name of the Washington County Economic Development Council had been changed to Site Select Plus to reflect the concept that it was more a cooperative partnership than a government entity.

Our mission at Site Select Plus is to grow primary industries,” Hirschi said, describing primary industries as manufacturing, distribution and operations.

Tech-based businesses, be they software-based or manufacturing-based, also remain a focus for area officials as they continue to foster growing businesses while also recruiting new ones to the region.

“Our emphasis is growing those kind of businesses here,” Hirschi said. He noted that businesses in the tech industry tend to congregate in specific areas of the United States. In Utah, these places can be readily found in Salt Lake City and Provo. Site Select Plus will certainly continue to lobby prospective business to Washington County, but will also promote local growth as much as possible.

New tech and manufacturing-based businesses featured at the What’s Up Down South rapid-fire session of the summit included: mobile app-based, national stone veneer manufacturer and installer Environmental Stoneworks, Industrial Brush Corporation, whose products are used in a wide range of applications, business jetliner manufacturer Syberjet Aircraft and a custom wood laminate store fixtures manufacturer KPI Concepts.

However, in order to support either local or incoming tech or manufacturing-based business, a skilled and educated local workforce is required.

Washington County School District Superintendent Larry Bergeson told summit attendees that the school district is working with Dixie State University and Dixie Applied Technology College to identify local employment needs. As this is done, the school district will focus efforts on helping to create a “more qualified and reliable student and workforce in the county,” he said.

The percentage of end-of-year passing test scores for language, math and science in the district are above the state average, as is the district’s graduation rate.

For its part, Dixie Applied Technology College is helping to supply a skilled workforce that incoming companies desire, said Vic Hockett, vice president of operations. DXATC has long been partnered with DSU in this area, as credits earned at the applied technology college can also be applied to an associate degree in science at the university.

Currently DXATC provides schooling in information technology, manufacturing, healthcare, diesel mechanics and various other occupations, Hockett said. A full range of programs offered by the school can be found on its website.

As well, Hockett said the school will put together specialized curriculum for incoming companies so they can supply skilled workers.

Hockett added that 83 percent of DAXTC’s students graduate, with 88 percent of those graduates being placed in jobs within a 30-mile radius of the school’s St. George campus.

We want to train local and employ local,” Hockett said.

Additional highlights from the What’s Up Down South rapid-fire session

New Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson noted economic milestones of the last year, such as the relocation of Syberjet Aircraft’s headquarters to Cedar City.

We are encouraged with the quality of business coming into Cedar,” Wilson said.

She also mentioned a series of infrastructure improvements in Cedar City that will help prevent future flooding.

Gaye Stockman presented for Mesquite Regional Business, Inc. The group represents communities in the Virgin River basin and Moapa Valley, which includes Mesquite, Overton, Logandale and Moapa. Like Site Select Plus, Mesquite Regional is focused on bringing primary employers to the region.

Though St. George and Mesquite, Nev., are separated by state borders, Stockman said the two cities have much in common and are a part of the same economic community. “What affects you affects us,” she said.

Rick Torgerson, director of the Utah Department of Transportation’s Region 4, said UDOT projects truly benefit the economy of Southern Utah as a whole. UDOT currently has 13 major projects in the works, with 55 total projects underway in Iron, Kane, and Washington counties totaling an estimated $255 million.

Litehouse Foods, Inc., which maintains a facility in Hurricane, was given the Safety & Health Achievement Recognition Program award from the Utah Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Litehouse Foods has developed a culture of safety,” OSHA division director Scott McKenzie said. It is the first company in Southern Utah to receive the award.

Boulder Creek Crossing, a new 65-acre multi-use commercial center development, was highlighted at the summit as well. The development is located at 1450 South River Road across from the Summit Athletic Club. It is projected to contain 25 buildings and cost an estimated $30 million to build, while also adding $60 million to the city and county property tax base.

The development is expected to take five to seven years to build, and will include a Maverik gas station, Smith’s Marketplace, two professional office buildings, a retail strip mall, and various other commercial entities.

Paparazzi Accessories, a popular jewelry line based out of Hurricane, was also presented. Locally, the business employs 40 people and operates out of three buildings in Hurricane. Founder Trent Kirby said the business has grown tremendously since starting in 2010, and will continue to grow and add new jobs. Beyond Washington County, the Paparazzi Accessories has over 22,000 independent consultants across the United States.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

2014 Washington County Economic Summit, St. George, Utah, Jan. 16, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
2014 Washington County Economic Summit, St. George, Utah, Jan. 16, 2014 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

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  • bub January 17, 2014 at 10:02 pm

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens with the overall economy as the Fed slows down its massive money printing scheme…

  • Bender January 19, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    I’d like to welcome boulder creek crossing to the virgin river flood plain. May your flooding events be pleasurable and your insurance adjusters and consulting engineers pliable.

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