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Wasatch County
Heber, Midway and Wasatch County

Heber Valley Businesses, Chamber Of Commerce Discuss Local Economy

Ben Lasseter/KPCW

Wasatch County business owners and managers met with the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce to talk about the local economy.

About 20 people from business sectors including service, retail, real estate and health and wellness came to the Monday morning forum.

Director Dallin Koecher opened the meeting with two questions: “What challenges are you facing?” and “How are you solving your problems?”

The attendees agreed employees, especially good workers, have been hard to come by and keep recently. When Koecher asked for the people whose businesses were fully staffed to raise their hands, no hands went up.

Koecher said he believed more than 75% of local businesses weren’t fully staffed, and about 2.5% of eligible workers in the county, or about 400 people, are considered unemployed.

One of three local elected officials who attended, Heber Councilwoman Rachel Kahler asked what people were paying their young workers. She mentioned some of the fast-food chains have upped minimum wages to $15 an hour and asked if that sets an unsustainable precedent for those just entering the workforce.

Nicole Ferguson of Mountain Refined Furnishings said she’d recently raised base pay from $10 to $11 an hour. Still, she’s had trouble getting people to apply, do good work and stick around.

Mark Nelson, director of the Heber Valley Railroad and a county councilman, said the railroad has upped starting hourly wages to double digits, too. Starting railroad pay had previously been at $8 an hour.

Nelson said revenue, demand and ticket sales have been good at the Heber Creeper, but increasing costs have hurt profits. He added that it’s had trouble restocking gift shop shelves because of interruptions to the supply chain from China.

Others agreed the high customer demand coupled with employee shortage has made it hard to meet customers’ expectations.

While these have caused headaches and major problems, the attendees weren’t without ideas.

Two real estate agents with Davis Coleman Realty proposed starting a network to connect short-staffed businesses with local people who want to work part-time. Genene Miles and Lisa Orme said they knew that many in the valley have time on their hands and would want to pick up occasional shifts just to have something productive to do.

Koecher said the chamber of commerce is looking into a couple of ways to get more young people working.

One would be similar to the networking idea, but for high schoolers and employers who specifically want them.

Another would require grant funding that hasn’t been secured yet. The idea is to start a program to match earnings toward a college fund for young workers in the valley.

Those present also supported local government bringing more affordable housing and better public transportation. Officials said they’ve looked into creating bus routes to connect Heber to Park City and Provo.

Before adjourning, those in the room agreed to support local businesses on social media with a “kindness campaign.” Ferguson and others agreed to make a habit of responding to unkind remarks about local businesses on Facebook with positive messages.

Ben Lasseter reports for KPCW in Wasatch County. Before moving to Heber City, Ben worked in Manti as a general assignment newspaper reporter and editor.
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