“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
In his January State of the State address, Gov. Gary Herbert announced his plan to create 25,000 jobs throughout rural Utah in the next four years. Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox has been shepherding that 25K Jobs Initiative ever since.
For Cox, the issue is personal. Cox is from Fairview, Utah, in Sanpete County, and he’s tired of seeing the county’s kids leaving home to find work. So, he’s bringing the work home. (Ironically, Cox commutes to Salt Lake City from Fairview every day.)
The need for rural jobs is especially acute in former coal counties, like Carbon and Emery. Coal jobs are gone, and they aren’t coming back. These counties have been especially susceptible to increased suicide and opioid addiction. Few coal-oriented businesses can retool for a non-coal economy on their own, and a low-wage tourism economy will not, by itself, pick up the slack.
The 25K Jobs Initiative sends service providers from urban areas to every rural county to help people connect with government and business resources. The initiative also connects county leaders with state providers to narrow the needed services to those most relevant to each county.
The initiative encourages two general scenarios: home startup businesses and Wasatch Front companies willing to get rural.
The initiative encourages home startup businesses by connecting owners with services like banking, lending and business development training. Once people are working, economic development increases as people earn money and start buying things, eating in restaurants and going to the movies. Or, for Cox, golfing.
But Cox is especially looking for large Wasatch Front companies willing to hire rural employees for manufacturing outlets or customer service positions fulfilled through tele-commuting. With the advent of the internet economy, workers can work from anywhere, including their own homes.
Cox claims the barriers have never been lower for an innovative company that wants to disrupt the status quo and find success in an unlikely place. Like rural Utah.
The initiative is a laudable project. As anyone who lives near the Draper prison knows, land along the Wasatch Front is in scarce supply. The state should provide incentives for companies who invest in rural development.
Admittedly, a goal of 25,000 jobs is not ambitious; employment is already projected to increase by 20,000 jobs. But the stretch part of the 25,000 job stretch goal is that the jobs will be created in every rural county, not just a few of the most populated ones.
Whether new jobs are created in less-populous counties will be the indicator of the 25K Job Initiative’s success.