While Utah’s economy is booming on the Wasatch Front, the lingering effects of the Great Recession and technological changes in heavy industries, like mining, are still posing economic challenges for Utah’s rural counties.
Parts of rural Utah are still struggling with net population loss, and slow, and sometimes even negative, economic growth. For example, in 2008, there were eight coal mines in Emery County; today there are just two. Daggett County, the state’s smallest county with just 1,029 permanent residents, has seen a precipitous drop in county revenue in the last number of years. Many rural Utah counties continue to have unemployment rates far higher than the state and national averages.
However, new technologies and companies supported by Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR) bring potential new economic growth opportunities to rural Utah.
For example, Conductive Composites, has brought new opportunities not just to Wasatch County where it is headquartered, but also to Emery County, where it opened an advanced manufacturing facility. The company, which creates lightweight materials that provide high levels of conductivity and electromagnetic shielding, opened a coated fiber production plant in Cleveland, Utah (population 442), doubling its production capabilities. George Hansen, co-founder of the company, was awarded the Governor’s Medal in Science and Technology in 2018.
“While creating new jobs in rural Utah is very difficult, George chose to base his company there with both R&D as well as manufacturing,” said Jeff Edwards, executive director of the Utah Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Initiative (UAMMI), earlier this year. “These high-paying jobs have had a significant impact in these communities where the economic recovery has been slow.”
Edwards estimates that to-date, Hansen has created 285 man years of fulltime deep technology and advanced manufacturing employment in rural Utah, with wages and benefits of approximately $30 million. Additionally, says Edwards, Conductive Composites has put nearly $15 million back into the local economies of rural Utah in purchases of local goods, services, and contractors.
Meanwhile in Vernal, in rural Uintah County, Dragon Shale creates high-value petrochemicals from oil shale, minimizing energy use and reduced environmental impact during the extraction process. The company hopes to bring new jobs to the area, as well as other parts of Utah that have traditionally been dependent on the oil industry.
“Our technology enables small scale low capital cost and low risk projects,” said O.J. Schneider, co-founder of Dragon Scale. “These projects enable the resource owner rather than a third party to be able to license, build, and own the production capability to process their own resource, keeping the greatest value in the local economy.”
In calendar years 2016 and 2017, USTAR-supported companies located outside of Salt Lake, Davis, Utah, and Weber counties created 53 full- or part-time jobs, according to an independent study conducted by TEConomy Partners, LLC. Of the 50 positions where data was available, 82 percent of those jobs were above the county average salary.
To learn more about USTAR-supported companies and projects in rural Utah, visit USTAR.org.