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Two tales of one city: Ogden is rising and reeling
Economy » Revitalized core and its new jobs stand in stark contrast to neighborhoods still bearing brunt of recession’s unemployment high of 12.5 percent.

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There is still a lot that needs to be done. [But] downtown is healthy again. People from the region are coming to to be entertained, and to some degree to shop, and that’s a complete change from where we were."

Godfrey goes so far as to say that Ogden was better off during the worst of the recession than it was in the 1990s, when he decided to run for mayor. The city’s railroad-based economy had petered out. Thiokol, which later was bought by ATK, moved out of a big office in downtown Ogden. Two key retailers, Nordstrom and JCPenney, had already left the city, and others were soon to follow. The city, Godfrey said, was on an ominous downward spiral.

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"It was by far way worse. There’s no comparison. If you ask the average person on the street, they would all say the same thing."

Recruiting success » The key to Ogden’s revival — at least where there was a revival — was to chase new jobs. The city is now known for the success it’s had recruiting outdoor products companies. "Today, nine sporting-good companies and a dozen outdoor brands call Ogden home, including Rossignol, Salomon, Atomic, Scott USA, Descente and others," according to an Outdoor Industry Association study of the city, which the retailer group said is the "nation’s newest hotspot for high-adventure outdoor recreation."

There have been notable successes in other industrial sectors. Among the employers that GOED has helped bring or expand in Ogden are a medical device maker, an aerospace company, an aviation business and several food manufacturers. In June, the city received a $1 million grant from the federal government to fund a lab that will train workers and provide space for business startups in the bustling field of software applications for smartphones and tablets. The lab is expected to create 750 jobs over the next 10 years.

"My observation is how much [Ogden] has improved," said Crystal Call Maggelet, chairwoman of FJ Management Inc., formerly known as truck stop giant Flying J. "It feels like it’s much better now than it was [three years ago], not that I felt it was dire in 2009. From our perspective, it’s very alive."

But Maggelet’s sense of Ogden as a community that has transformed itself from a forlorn railroad town to a modern, diverse city isn’t shared by everyone

"The [labor] market is tough. There’s nothing happening right now," said John Hunt, a 56-year-old disabled Vietnam veteran who lost his job at a cookie plant almost two years ago.

Hunt walks with a cane because of a combat injury. After being laid off, he went to school to become a computer technician. Upon graduation, he couldn’t find a job in that field. So he’s planning to go back to school again, this time to study medical billing.

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"It’s very tough," he said.

Rising tide » Godfrey acknowledges Ogden has a long way to go. Latinos make up 30 percent of the city’s population, a ratio in Utah second only to West Valley City. Many, although not all, are poor. Twenty-one percent of the city’s population lives below the U.S. poverty level, a ratio that is twice that of Utah. Despite what Godfrey calls a "brain gain" that followed the arrival of new outside employers, Ogden still has proportionately fewer high school and college graduates than the rest of the state, according to U.S. Census data.

Still, he argues, the city’s jobs strategy has worked. Educated people are moving into the community. Many of the jobs that have been created by companies recruited to the city pay what he said are "liveable" wages, provide health and retirement benefits, and offer the prospect of long-term employment.

"We wanted to grow the economy and create more disposable income for people. We believed in the rising-tide theory, and it worked. It was hard. It took a long time to get going. We had to create a new vision for our town. But it worked."


Twitter: @sltribpaul

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