Hildale mayor hopes new factory, attracted by state incentives, will change its reputation as a polygamist hub

Any rural town would cheer news that the state cut a deal to attract a new factory that promises 90 high-paying jobs. But Hildale Mayor Donia Jessop says such news Thursday may do more than boost the local economy. It may finally help change her community’s image as just a polygamist enclave.

“This is a game-changer for us,” she said as the state announced that Infab — the nation’s largest manufacturer of X-ray medical protection gear such as lead aprons, glasses and gloves — is expanding to this small city on the border with Arizona, thanks in part to some state financial incentives.

“We’re completely rebranding Hildale. It’s not a polygamist community, so we need to stop calling it that,” Jessop said. She estimates that about 5% of its 1,900 residents are members of the polygamous Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — as are about 20% of the 4,500 residents in adjacent Colorado City, Ariz.

She notes that as Infab executives visited and discussed plans, polygamy never came up.

“There isn’t worry about that. That wasn’t even talked about,” she said. “I love that the conversation is not going around that anymore. The conversation is around growth and change and success. These jobs are really going to help stabilize the people there.”

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this 2017 photo, Donia Jessop holds her mayoral campaign sign outside her store in Colorado City, Ariz. Campaign signs are unusual in a town where elections have long been quietly decided behind the scenes, with hand-picked men from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints running unopposed.

Don Cusick, Infab’s chairman of the board, said he wasn’t initially aware of Hildale’s polygamous history.

“We became interested because of the availability of just about the perfect building for us to expand into” as its sales have boomed, he said — a 60,000-square-foot facility being vacated soon by NewEra manufacturing, which is expanding and moving to Cedar City.

“We were actually looking at southern Nevada, but the prices there have skyrocketed,” Cusick said.

“We were just doing an internet search and found that perfect building. We didn’t, at that time, realize what had previously gone on in Hildale.” But after meeting with town officials, “We’re fairly comfortable with the direction things were going, so decided to take a shot.”

The company now has a 40,000-square-foot facility in Camarillo, Calif., which Cusick said it will probably keep as well as expanding into the larger facility in Hildale.

Jessop said she’s excited about the new company hiring within Hildale, something she noted NewEra did not do.

“The beauty of Infab coming into town and hiring locals is that money will be turned around and generated back into the local economy,” she said. We have enough people in that area to take care of this company.”

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development is giving Infab an incentive that would allow it to earn rebates of up to 20% of new state taxes it would pay over five years, up to about $158,000.

To qualify, aggregate wages must average 10% higher than the county average, and Infab must meet goals for job creation and plans to invest $5 million in facilities. The state estimates that new state tax revenues from the plant over five years to be $790,000, as a result of corporate, payroll and sales tax.

Jessop said that even more important than the economic benefits the company may bring is how it may help change perceptions.

“There’s plenty of room for growth — for businesses and family," she said. “We welcome diversity and new people in town.”