- Associated Press - Thursday, January 8, 2015

ST. GEORGE, Utah (AP) - If the forward-looking agenda for the What’s Up Down South Economic Summit is any indication, southwest Utah seems to have unshackled itself from the trauma of the Great Recession.

For the past five years, the area’s largest annual business gathering often revolved around topics that responded either to the impacts of the recession or to the ramifications of the recovery.

But a more stable growth curve over the past year has helped form a general consensus that the recovery has already happened.

At the Jan. 15 summit, the conversation is expected to turn more toward the next chapter in Southern Utah’s economic future.

And thanks to the area’s penchant for growth and development, that next chapter is expected to involve a much larger role in the statewide economy.

“Washington County and Iron County and the rest of Southern Utah are absolutely critical to the economy of our state and maintaining the momentum that we have,” Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox said recently, pointing to the region’s expected population growth and increasingly diversified economic base as key indicators.

Tourism, outdoor recreation and new construction to accommodate migrating retirees have long been major drivers locally, but many are expecting a larger, more diverse economy to develop.

The area’s institutions of higher education will play a key role, Cox said, noting that one of the largest issues faced today is a lack of educated, trained workers to keep up with companies’ demands.

And as the region continues to develop -state demographers forecast Washington County to more than double its population by 2030 - southwest Utah could also play a pivotal role in understanding how to meet statewide demands associated with growth.

Cox, an attorney with experience as a telecommunications executive, is one of the scheduled keynote speakers at the summit.

He also is scheduled to lead a breakout session on the role of technology in Utah’s economic development.

Using an example from his Fairview farm, where technology has helped to generate higher yields while using less water, Cox said he is optimistic that innovation will be a big part of meeting future challenges.

“I feel like where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said. “We have to be willing to invest in infrastructure, but we have to be willing to do it smart.”

Scott Hirschi, executive director of Site Select Plus, southwest Utah’s primary business recruitment and economic development agency, said this year’s economic summit has been scheduled with a more diverse set of topics, branching out into the various aspects of the economy and focused less on the questions about recovery.

Unemployment rates generally have stayed below 5 percent for most of the last year, and job growth has been steady.

Home prices have been slowly ticking upward while new home construction has leveled off, even ticking downward in 2014 compared to 2013.

“I think the indicators tend to say that the economy is stable and reacting appropriately to economic demand instead of reacting to a (recession-driven) lack of demand,” he said.


Information from: The Spectrum, https://www.thespectrum.com

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