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Enterprise Zone Stirs Thoughts About Summit County's Economic Future

The Summit County Council on November 20th approved an application to the state to be classified as an Enterprise Zone.

And, as Council Chairman Roger Armstorng noted, that raises questions about what the county’s economy will be in the future.   

The Enterprise zoning, which encourages development through tax breaks, would apply to commercial, industrial and agricultural areas in the unincorporated county.

Armstrong said the dilemma for Summit County is that affordable housing is difficult to create when property values are high—and wages are lower than the state average-- a typical sign for a resort-based economy.

He said the county and city have had discussions about how their resort economy should diversify.     

“A lot of those conversations related to the notion of, we have a warming environment.  We saw several years, in the last several years, multiple years, where we had shortened ski seasons.  And during the recession, we saw business drop off.   Do we want an economy that is subject to those kinds of fluctuations that we see in the tourist industry with recessions and the like, and that has lower-end wages.  Or do we want an economy that is able to grow beyond that, and be more robust, by adding additional industries, or possibly we could keep our kids here.  Right now, we ship our kids out to work in the Salt Lake Valley and other places because we don’t have those varying levels of jobs that allow for professional advancement.”

Seeking diversity, Summit County approved the Boyer Tech Park at Kimball Junction more than ten years ago.    Yet now, county planners are considering replacing it with a plan from new owners Dakota Pacific.

The reason, said Armstrong, is that the Tech Park didn’t grow.       

“ There’s one business there, and that’s Skullcandy.  And the Boyers and Chris Conabee, who’s worked with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, said that they have diligently tried to bring in tech businesses to relocate to the Tech Park, and they’ve been unable to do it.”

He said the reasons for Boyer’s problems can be found elsewhere in the state’s economy.      

“The state of Utah seems to have put its money on Silicon Slopes, so that Lehi area, and to some degree northern Utah.  And that’s where it’s concentrating its development efforts to grow tech.    And as you start to grow those tech industries, they tend to concentrate in areas where there’s some economies and some interaction among them.  There’s some concern about its location near research centers like the University of Utah.  It’s a little bit too far away.  Housing costs up here are still a big issue, we’re told by the Boyers.  So if that was the goal, that goal is unrealized.  So do we simply leave it open as—and tell the owner of the property, if you can make this work, good luck to you.    Otherwise, we got free open space.   Or do we still work to try to achieve that goal with that economic diversification?”

Armstrong said at this point, he’s staying away from the deliberations on the Dakota concept, which is before Snyderville Planning Commission.    But he said he is thinking about traffic.       

“I would hope that, first and foremost that, whatever they do at the Tech Park at the entrance to Kimball Junction, if they can’t figure out traffic and how to move people in and out, it’s just not gonna go anywhere.  It’s gonna stay where it is.”

Summit County Council Chairman Roger Armstrong.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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