ST. GEORGE — Seeking a fresh perspective to aid in the creation of an economy-focused disaster recovery and resiliency plan for the region, Southern Utah’s Five County Association of Governments has brought on a young economist from Arizona to direct the plan’s development.
The Association of Governments, which is based in St. George and covers Washington, Iron, Beaver, Kane and Garfield counties, announced the hiring of Nathanuel Martinez last month as the organization’s new economic development planner. The 23-year-old Martinez will lead the organization’s efforts in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by developing a region-wide Disaster Recovery and Resiliency Economic Development Plan.
Martinez was hired through CARES Act funding granted to the Five County Association last year by the U.S. Economic Development Administration. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he earned a bachelor’s in economics, and is currently pursuing a certification in economic development from Utah Valley University.
He told St. George News he has “come out here to plan, prepare and partner – that’s Five County’s mission – with various different organizations through the region to promote disaster recovery and resiliency.”
The plan is meant to not only help the region continue to economically rebound from the downturn caused by the pandemic but also help weather any similar events that may occur in the future.
While parts of Utah have come through the pandemic better than other areas in the country, Martinez said some parts of the regional economy that are more heavily-weighted toward tourism and outdoor recreation were nonetheless impacted more than others.
Because of this, part of Martinez’s plan is to help diversify the regional economy more, which he said means adding new jobs across many different sectors of employment.
While neither his job – nor that of the Five County Association of Governments for that matter – is geared toward the active recruitment and retention of businesses to the area, Martinez said they are there to connect people with the right parties if approached about the matter.
“It’s more of a collaborative role – a research and liaison capacity,” he said.
Bryan Thiriot, executive director of the Five County Association of Governments, told St. George News he gave Martinez a directive to determine how the five-county region can economically survive even if the rest of the country “fell apart.”
“How does our region still survive and keep carrying on?” he said. “That’s the directive I’ve set out for him to accomplish.”
Martinez said a part of developing this, and the recovery and resiliency plan overall, is a “SWOT” analysis, which stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats – in this case related to the regional economy.
As a part of the analysis thus far, Martinez has met with various groups and found three primary themes that he plans to focus on: a desire for economic diversity, workforce development and attainable housing.
These issue are common among the municipalities and chambers of commerce he’s met with, he said, as well as Utah’s Paiute bands.
“Of all these different voices, these are the common themes,” Martinez said. “It’s multifaceted. There’s a lot going on there. It’s going to be our job over the next year or so to decode that and set aside a few best practices.”
The disaster recovery and resiliency economic development plan is in the preliminary stages and isn’t slated for release until June 2022, according to the Five County Association’s website.
Though Martinez may be younger compared to some of his colleagues within the association, he said his youth – and the fact that he’s not from Utah – gave him a “different perspective.”
“I’m not an insider here at all.”
Thiriot confirmed that these attributes contributed to Martinez’s hiring.
“To have a different perspective and to tell and identify what our our weaknesses are with the region, and what our opportunities are,” Thiriot said. “He brings a fresh set of eyes on the region.”
The Five Counties County Association of Governments was formed in 1972 for the purpose of better coordinating management of various programs and long-term planning between Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane and Washington counties. It also helps coordinate planning and programs between the counties and various federal agencies as necessary.
According to the association’s website, the group is a “key player in aiding locally elected officials in coping with regional challenges,” including community and economic development, transportation planning, small business financing, aging programs, human services planning and job training.
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