Directing the Uintah Basin Scene
May 1, 2008
In Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” King Henry displays extraordinary resolve once he sets a goal. Using every resource available, Henry creates a remarkable force to help him carry out his objective. Henry was a leader who loved his family and felt he was doing the best he could for his subjects. Enter Robert Behunin.
Behunin serves as assistant to the president of Utah State University, working on economic projects to bolster development in Uintah County. His characteristics and determination reflect the ideals embraced by the hero of his favorite Shakespearean play, “Henry V.”
“Henry was an individual who really rises above himself,” Behunin says. “He realizes that it’s more about the people than it is about him.”
Following that philosophy allows Behunin to work with business and development leaders to create programs intended to strengthen Uintah County. He doesn’t use the term “economic upswing” or “downswing,” choosing instead to call fiscal fluctuations “energy surges.”
Having survived two or three energy surges in recent years, the Vernal area is banking on Behunin to diversify the local economy and bring financial consistency to a region driven by natural resources. “We need to move in different directions. We can’t just focus on oil and gas,” he says. “My job is to connect the dots bringing legislators, educators, businessmen and philanthropists together to meet our needs.”
His first act was to extend an invitation to Utah State University (USU) and the Uintah Basin Applied Technology College (UBATC) to get involved. The strong alliance between the two institutions has pooled educational resources and created a component where future employees for the area can be trained in research, recreation management, education and technology.
“We don’t have to rely on Wasatch Front schools to train our [employees],” Behunin says. “We’re keeping our own people here, and adding to them.”
Uintah County has many selling points: Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Dinosaur National Monument and Ashley National Forest attract thousands of visitors every year, the existing fiber optic network is beneficial for companies moving into the area, and technology businesses are relocating to the region. The spotlight is shining on the Uintah area as other counties wait to see what develops — and Behunin is directing the scene.
Just five years ago, Behunin was teaching Shakespeare and Chaucer to college students at Southern Utah University. His degree in medieval and renaissance literature didn’t get him the job in Vernal but his people skills, ability to network and talent for creating alliances was exactly what was needed for the position.
“I’m really a weird duck,” Behunin says. “I’m a jack-of-all-trades and master of nothing, but I can deliver a line from Shakespeare.”
He and his wife, Sarah, live just outside Vernal in Dry Fork Canyon. Behunin lives in a home surrounded by Ponderosa pines where he raises horses when he’s not trying to bring synergy and excitement to an area on the brink of another energy surge.
“We have real emotion, tangible philosophy and an altruistic vision of what we’re doing here,” Behunin says. “We’re not afraid to get it done.”