Rural counties in Utah are poised to get a leg up from the Legislature this session as both the Senate and House passed a bill approving $10 million in grants to be awarded to counties that have been largely left out of the economic boom along the Wasatch Front.
SB95 is intended to boost the struggling smaller counties by giving county officials the ability to direct economic development money where it is most needed, hopefully spurring job creation and development in those areas.
Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, said the grant pool would be split evenly into two pools: one that allots $200,000 for each qualifying county and another that puts $5 million in a competitive grant pool.
“[This bill] creates a bottom-up approach … which allows counties of third to sixth class to participate in the grant program if they create a county economic advisory board,” Albrecht said.
Salt Lake, Utah, Davis, Weber, Washington and Cache counties would not be eligible because they each have populations over 125,000 — and in the case of Salt Lake County, nearly 10 times that, according to the most recent estimates by the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.
This grant is taxpayer-funded, with money redirected from the now-shuttered Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR).
SB95 officially repeals the act that authorized USTAR — a funding program meant to help attract top-notch university researchers to the state and to develop startups based on their academic work. A legislative audit found the program exaggerated its job creation and revenue numbers, effectively killing the program.
The bill is now headed to Gov. Gary Herbert for final approval. Asked if he supports it, a spokeswoman said the governor is reviewing the legislation.