Rural initiatives to change the landscape of economic development

During the 2018 Utah General Legislative Session, H.B. 327 and H.B. 390, the Rural Online Initiative (ROI) and the Rural Economic Development Incentive (REDI) respectively, were signed into law by Gov. Gary R. Herbert changing the landscape of rural economic development.

These programs were created as companion bills to spur economic activity in Utah’s struggling rural counties and move the state closer to attaining the goal of the governor’s 25k Initiative.

The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) was tasked with administering the REDI program which is designed to incentivize businesses that create jobs locally, remotely, online, or in a “satellite hub” in counties of the fourth, fifth or sixth class (populations of less than 31,000).

The funding for the ROI was appropriated to Utah State University Extension for program development and delivery across targeted rural counties. The focus of the ROI program is to provide Utah’s rural workforce and businesses with education, training, and services for online opportunities in remote employment, freelance work, and e-commerce.

The ROI program’s first product is the Master Remote Work Professional, a blended course, combining online work with interactive workshops. This certificate course is designed to equip participants with the tools and skills needed to transition from on-site work into a remote work career. More information can be found

Both the REDI and the ROI programs collaborate with the Department of Workforce Services (DWS), associations of governments, economic development leaders and other county and city leaders to open doors for remote employment with existing businesses along the Wasatch Front. Remote work provides people who prefer to live in rural communities with the same work opportunities they would have if they lived in Utah’s metro areas.

The partnership between REDI and ROI are outlined below.
• ROI will identify, recruit, train and mentor a community of qualified remote workers.
• GOED, in cross-collaboration with ROI, will work with DWS to establish a class of remote-friendly companies along the Wasatch Front, assist companies in developing plans for remote job opportunities, and fill these jobs with qualified applicants with remote work experience.
• For businesses that have successfully created higher-than-average paying jobs in the small rural counties of Utah, the REDI grant gives $4,000 to $6,000 for each new position.

Economic and environmental advantages to this partnership between ROI and GOED include: 
• Access to affordable housing in rural Utah.
• Reduced commute times and reduced traffic resulting in lower congestion, cleaner air and reduced consumption of fossil fuels.
• Stimulated economy in rural areas of Utah through property taxes, sales and use tax, higher average county wage and income tax base, and tourism.
• Business sustainability in times of disaster or social conflicts as workers in remote locations can often remain online.

The partnership between the Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s REDI program and Utah State University’s ROI program aims to ease the strain of growth and expansion along the Wasatch Front. Dispersing jobs outside of high-density business sectors will allow for reduced commute times, broader recruitment areas, cleaner air from reduced traffic, and more balanced wage and employment rates across the state. These programs are expected to reduce unemployment, underemployment and poverty levels in rural Utah through increased income opportunities.