Article

Southern Utah Regional Report

Discussion moderated by Scott Hirschi, director of the Washington County Economic Development Council

March 12, 2014


Participants:

Scott Hirschi, Site Select Plus; Jim Boyd, Cabosoft; Maile Wilson, Cedar City; Maria Twitchell, Cedar City Tourism Bureau; Brennan Wood, Cedar City Economic Dev.; Ray Rosenthal, Coldwell Banker Commercial; Travis Parry, Commerce Real Estate; Jason Wells, ContactPoint; Danny Ipson, DATS Trucking; Kelle Stephens, Dixie Applied Technology; R. Neil Walter, NAI Utah Comm. Real Estate; Mitch Cloward, Dixie Regional Medical Center; Will Frace, Family Dollar; Kelly Stowell, Kane County/Kanab City CEBA; George Gault, Mesquite Regional Business, Inc; Craig Morley, Morely & McConkie; Tracey Welsh, Red Mountain Resort; Mark Hendrickson, Hendrickson/Butler; Rick Rosenberg, Santa Clara; Ryan Gubler, St. George Area Chamber; Joel Deceuster, St. George Area Chamber; Kevin Smith, Tuacahn Center for the Arts; Jeff Fisher, Tuacahn Center for the Arts; Vick Hockett, Dixie ATC; Annie Howell, Watts Construction; Vardell Curtis, Washington County Board of Realtors; Roxie Sherwin, Washington County Convention Bureau; David Clark, Zions Bank

Washington County is back to or above the pre-boom economic levels. Our economy has recovered and is now setting new levels of population growth, job growth and retail sales. The unemployment rate is less than one half of what it was at its peak during the recession. How are our other Southern Utah counties faring?

STOWELL: Our Kane County economy has been pretty stagnant over the last couple of years. We were slower to come into the recession, and we have been slower to come out of it, but overall it’s been strong. We have had some steady growth. The real estate market of homes valued at $200,000 and less has been really strong. Homes over $200,000 have been pretty slow.

Our biggest economic drivers are tourism and nonprofits, which is pretty surprising—and a lot of that is due to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. They are our largest employer in Kane County. They account for about 10 percent of our workforce with over 400 employees.

We have a lot of entrepreneurs, so companies like Stamping Up—they still have their manufacturing facility in Kanab. Tourism has been really strong. Our transient room taxes have almost doubled in the last five years, which is pretty remarkable. Overall we are doing well.

WOOD: It’s been a really good year for the Cedar City/Iron County region. Real estate closed sales were up nearly 3 percent. The median sales price was up nearly 19 percent. The valuation of total permits was up 33 percent. Our unemployment rate continues to decrease—it decreased just over 1 percent from the beginning of 2013 to the end of the year. Corporate sales tax increased 4 percent.

What’s driving the economy right now in Iron County is industrial development and our events and tourism activities. This past year, we’ve announced two projects in Cedar City. The first is the expansion of GAF, which is North American’s largest roofing manufacturer. It purchased a 500,000-square-foot facility and is expanding into the area. The other is MSC, for delivering the SJ-30 light business jets. Those two projects will create more than 1,200 jobs over the next 15 years in Cedar City.

The largest economic sector in our respective communities is tourism. What are the current conditions in that industry?

WELSH: Certainly 2013 was an interesting year for tourism in our area, especially with the instability at the federal level and the shutdown of Zion National Park. I remember feeling very good about occupancy and rate levels, and then of course that hiccup occurred.

We worked very hard to recover from that, bringing people into our local community and getting them interested in what we had outside of the national park. Specifically with Red Mountain, 2013 was a year that we were going to try and drive more revenue and occupancy. It didn’t work as well as I hoped it would have had. However, we did end the year up over the previous year.

The biggest challenge we are going to face now is finding employees in these areas.

TWITCHELL: Tourism in Iron County for 2013 was very robust. Our ski resort, Brian Head, had been up for sale for some time. It was finally purchased, and we have a new owner who’s an onsite owner, and that has brought about some great changes. Right out of the bag he invested $3.5 million in improvements to the facilities and infrastructure, and now we’re getting a lot of recognition and praise for what he’s done.

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