Utah’s coal counties look to alternatives for future economic development

Seven of Utah’s 29 counties depend heavily on coal mining and electricity production from coal. But their future prosperity may depend on finding alternatives to coal and the high-paying jobs it provides in the state’s rural economy.

Utah’s Coal Communities, the third report in Utah Foundation’s series on Utah’s coal industry and the communities that depend on it, looks at the long-term future of communities that depend on coal today. As David Bird, a lawyer and lobbyist for mining companies points out,“Coal will be an indispensable element of the energy mix for a long time to come.” But communities such as Carbon County are looking to varied examples of rural development, from manufacturing to tourism to transportation. Further, there are examples outside of Utah such as the Virginia Coalfield Economic Development Authority as possible models for Utah’s future. Over almost 30 years, it has helped to create more than 20,000 jobs in Virginia’s seven-county coal producing region.

The third report drew upon the expertise of dozens of community leaders from various parts of Utah on how they see the future of their counties. Some have successfully adopted a tourism-based economy, while others are looking to new kinds of manufacturing and mining and their historic strengths in agriculture. 

“There are numerous government agencies and private entities working toward assisting rural Utah communities with economic development,” noted Shawn Teigen, Research Director and author of the report. “From my conversations with leaders of Utah’s rural coal communities, the key to a successful approach is following their lead, and working with each community’s strengths.”

The full report is available on the Utah Foundation website, www.utahfoundation.org