As the Utah Legislature finishes up this year’s session, our state leaders have many reasons to be proud. The state constantly ranks high for fiscal responsibility and, at the end of the year, our unemployment rate was significantly below the national average.
Additionally, anyone who drives along I-15 from Provo to Salt Lake City can see the bevy of construction projects related to the growing Silicon Slopes tech scene. In fact, when Amazon announced that Utah was not a top 20 finalist for their much-publicized HQ2, the reaction from more than 10,000 Silicon Slopes Tech Summit attendees was a collective shrug. Utah’s tech community is doing just fine without Amazon.
But this growing prosperity is not shared by all Utahns. Although Utah as a whole has a higher median household income than the national median, 14 of our 18 rural counties fall behind the nation in that category according to U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey published in 2016. Furthermore, seven of our rural counties have a poverty rate higher than the national average and 14 counties have a rate higher than the state average.
But all is not doom and gloom for our rural communities. Studies also show that rural workers are more likely to be entrepreneurs than their urban counterparts, and rural businesses have a higher success rate than urban businesses.
This kind of entrepreneurial success could be accelerated with additional support in the following areas:
• K-12 non-athletic extracurricular programs in rural areas. Smaller schools usually have less variety in extracurricular programs. This can keep kids from fully exploring their interests.
• Higher education in rural Utah, specifically Snow College, USU Eastern, and USU Extension programs. Access to higher education is often correlated to increased economic opportunities.
• Trade and technical education in rural areas. Careers requiring trade and technical skills are more lucrative than many careers requiring traditional degrees.
• Entrepreneurship education in K-12, higher education and community education. Many entrepreneurs could be vastly more successful with a little more know-how.
• Tax support for growing rural businesses. The state will often offer millions of dollars of tax incentives to bring in large out-of-state businesses. Why not use more of that money to support businesses that are started here?
I’ve lived in many places across the country, and although I’ve met some fantastic people along the way, nothing compares to the work ethic and authenticity of rural Utahns. We definitely don’t want to be seen as charity cases. We’ll keep plugging along regardless of the support we receive from the Legislature.
However, as we gear up for another election year, I hope all Utahns will support candidates who believe rural Utah is a good investment.
Josh Hales is a rural Utah native. After pursuing a corporate career across the country, Josh has returned to rural Utah as an assistant professor of business and entrepreneurship at Snow College.