Summit County's Economic Recovery from COVID-19 is Far From Complete
As Summit County weathered the past pandemic year, it resorted to a number of programs to help businesses slammed by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the Economic Development Advisory Board.
Summit County Economic Development Director Jeff Jones said the Economic Advisory Board was formed last summer. It was enabled by the recently passed Utah Senate Bill 95, creating a Rural County Grant Program to help businesses.
A nine-member board was formed, including Francis Mayor Byron Ames and Kamas Mayor Matt McCormick. They have met almost monthly to dispense the grants.
Jones said the planned grant amount was originally $200,000 but it was cut back to $95,000 due to COVID-19. From there, about $47,500 was allocated to each side of the county.
He said the funding on the west side was aimed largely at the foodservice sector during colder months.
“We call that grant the Outdoor Hospitality Grant. And the purpose of that grant program was to assist businesses that say, were expanding infrastructure like outside of the footprint, like for tents and things, in order to increase the amount of spacing to accommodate the accommodation and foodservice sector,” Jones said. “Or to assist the arts, entertainment, recreation sector.”
The grants for the east side were a little different.
“As we move into winter, they slow down,” Jones said. “Their big time is during the summer. We’re a little more flexible with a small-business grant on the east side. It was targeted to companies that were adding new employees, that were either in full-time, part-time, contract labor, but also for business retention as well.”
For the coming year, Jones said they’re going to update their economic development strategy. They will be sending out surveys to residents and businesses, asking about the county’s strengths weaknesses and possible next moves.
Some residents might say Summit County doesn’t need further development, given the numbers of visitors and new residents attracted here during the pandemic. However, Jones said there have been some troubling numbers.
“Coming through the pandemic, we’re down about 4,000 jobs from our 2019 level,” he said. “We lost, coming through the pandemic, 3.1% of the county’s gross regional product. So there may be some ways in which we can grow just not for the more, but that we can grow also for the better.”
And he said affordable housing is still an issue.
“Those that were in the lower-wage earners suffered a lot more job losses than those that were high-wage earners or middle-income earners,” Jones said. “And so the need for affordable housing is probably still there. We also have a significant share of existing residents that are still paying more than the targeted 30% of their gross income for housing. And so the burden of housing is still present.”
Jones added that Summit County is applying for another rural county grant later this spring.