At the juncture of I-70 Interchange and State Highway 89, a 236-acre industrial site called the Salina Commercial Center, an EDCUtah SURE Site, will soon be home to a 25,000 square-foot Kenworth dealership.
Nearby, Peterbilt and Freightliner are also constructing 12,000 square-foot dealerships. Across the way, two truck stops are in construction near the interchange. In total, the construction activity amounts to approximately $80 million—more commercial construction than rural Salina has seen at one time since the 1940s, when the town boomed with the growth of coal mining operations at the Convulsion Canyon Mine (now Sufco), the Salina Turkey Plant moved in and the Salina Livestock Auction opened.
"It's about time," says Malcolm Nash, economic development director for Sevier County. "We have been waiting and expecting an explosion from the pent up demand." He's referring to the fact that Salina has always been a center of trucking activity, yet the service and maintenance side of the trucking industry hasn't kept up with demand. As the area's coal industry grew, two family-owned businesses, Barney Trucking and Robinson Transport, began hauling coal to residential customers throughout central Utah. When mining operations grew and became more complex, each company expanded its fleet and grew to become modern and sophisticated trucking operations. Every day, the companies haul more than 600 loads of coal from the Sufco mine to various users in Utah and Nevada. Some of the coal is transferred to rail and shipped to customers even farther away.
But a vacuum developed as the companies expanded and diversified their trucking operations, while the growth of truck servicing options lagged, such as maintenance, repair and warranty work. Nash says the two companies were having to service their fleets in-house because local truck dealers could not take care of repairs and warranty work. Until now.
"They've been a long time coming, but we are glad these dealerships are finally setting up shops in Salina. We need them," he continues. Richfield, the county seat, has long been the recipient of most economic activity in the area. Nash says Richfield is also seeing increased commercial development, but he couldn't be happier for Salina. "It's kind of a reverse in fortunes," he says.
After governmental services, the transportation industry supports the largest number of jobs in the county, followed by education, leisure/hospitality services, mining and manufacturing. Most of the transportation jobs are tied to mining operations. The Sufco mine is Utah's oldest and most productive coal mine. Other mining operations in the county include Redmond Trading Company's salt mine near Redmond, which produces about 12,000 tons of salt per week, and United States Gypsum, which operates a gypsum mine east of Sigurd.
Agriculture is another major component of Sevier County's economy, but not to the extent that it is in other counties in the state. According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the county has seen year-over-year job growth of 1.2 percent, or about 91 new jobs, compared to the state average of 3.1 percent job growth. About 70 of the county's new jobs are in the professional and business services sector. Meanwhile, the county's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 4.3 percent, compared to 3.6 percent for the state.
Nash says recreational activities have become an increasingly important economic driver for the county. Spending by travelers increased 7.8 percent from 2011 to 2012, while local tax revenues from traveler spending increased 7.4 percent. Fish Lake has, of course, always been a popular attraction for anglers chasing trophy trout, both in the summer and winter, but the most rapidly growing recreational attractions are now the Paiute ATV Trail and the Great Western Trail systems, which both cross through Sevier County. The latter trail system was also designated Utah's Centennial Trail. It traverses approximately 4,455 miles running through Utah, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
"We have more than 1,000 miles of ATV trails in the county, which brings a lot of people here," Nash explains. "In fact, ATV riders can access all of the trails in the region from Sevier County." ATVUtah.com describes the Paiute Trail as "a trail system with no beginning and no end, making it the largest in the nation." He says the Paiute Trail crisscrosses the Fish Lake National Forest and intervening Bureau of Land Management-administered land, surrounding Salina, Richfield, Aurora and many other rural communities in the county. And with a ready infrastructure, including hotels, restaurants and ATV service shops, the county stands ready to welcome and support the growing number of ATV riders that come to visit.
Richfield City's airport expansion project will be completed this fall and is another exciting development Nash hopes will spur more economic activity. The runway will be longer and will support heavier aircraft, but not the big jets. "It's a great piece of infrastructure that's being developed," he adds.