Summit County holds economic advantages over other counties in the state, primarily because there is a large resort-based tourism industry that drives economic development.
The hospitality and tourism industry then drives the second-home market, with real estate and rental leasing serving as the second largest contributor to the county’s gross regional product, said Jeff Jones, Summit County’s economic development director. Another large player is the arts and recreation sector. All of those are being further fueled by the overall strength of the state’s economy.
But, there are still challenges that Summit County faces when it comes to economic development, including a hiring crunch spurred by the low unemployment rate, a lack of diversity within the economy and an affordable housing shortage that could be improved through collaboration with the state.
Jones recently explored the strengths and weaknesses of the county’s economy as part of the creation of an economic development plan. Jones, along with elected officials, recently presented the plan to Gov. Gary Herbert and representatives of the Office of Economic Development and World Trade Center Utah. The meeting was connected to the governor’s plan to bring 25,000 rural jobs to the state.
Counties were asked to consolidate their existing economic development strategies to consider where there might be opportunities for partnership with the state.
“They (state officials) were highly complimentary of it and felt like there are areas where we could collaborate,” Jones said. “I was very much encouraged by the tone of the meeting.”
One of the areas where Jones thinks it is possible for the state and county to partner is on an overhaul of Kimball Junction and recuriting more businesses to that area. A master planning committee spent the last couple of years studying the Kimball Junction neighborhood in an effort to improve the area. Jones said it was suggested that the county expand the list of allowed uses at the Park City Tech Center, which could help the county be more successful in recruiting businesses.
Another chance for collaboration, Jones said, is in addressing the wildland fire danger. He said the county could use the state’s support in potentially reducing that threat over time.
Linda Clark Gillmor, director of the Governor’s Office of Rural Development, referred to county’s development plan as innovative, comprehensive and data driven.
“We look forward to working with the leaders of this beautiful rural county as they implement their plan,” she said.
As elected officials continue preparing the county for a possible second Winter Olympic Games in the region, they say focus on economic development and collaborations with the state will be critical.
Kim Carson, County Council chair, wants to see, in particular, how the state could help the county with improvements to the Kimball Junction interchange. She said the opportunity to talk about the infrastructure in the Snyderville Basin was critical.
“If we are to host another Olympics, we couldn’t take an undertaking like that on ourselves,” she said. “But, they are definitely willing to be here and support us. Some of it is looking at infrastructure and the different funding structures that could help support large projects, as well as the area of affordable housing. There are a lot of things we can do through legislation that could help support us in that area.”
Carson said it is critical for the state to be aware of the challenges that the county faces as the Utah legislative session nears so that different measures can be considered through the lens of how they would affect the county. She said the meeting allowed the county’s elected officials to describe the county’s advantages and drawbacks, such as the rising cost of living and lack of available affordable housing.
“They now will have a clear idea of how potential legislation could affect Summit County for the good or the bad,” she said. “I hope we get more opportunities like this to sit down and educate them.”
The issue of global warming and how a potential decline in snowfall could impact the ski season and resort market was also addressed, Carson said. She suspects Herbert recognizes how that could be detrimental to the state’s overall economy because the county is a huge economic driver for the state’s tourism industry.
While the meeting was focused on how the county and state can work together, Carson said elected officials are also taking steps toward improving the county’s economic development. She highlighted the county’s focus on the transit system to support the tourist economy and local employees.
“We don’t necessarily have the money to entice a company to come to Park City,” she said. “But, we can help by providing good infrastructure.
“The feedback we received from the meeting validates what we have put into the area of affordable housing, as well as our infrastructure,” she added.