On February 1, 2018, the Uzona Chamber of Commerce (UCC) organized and held the first Hildale Economics Forum. The event featured speakers from across the region to discuss some of the challenges, opportunities, successes, and plans relating to economic growth in the Short Creek area. The discussion of Hildale’s economic future stoked a palpable sense of excitement in the room from both the attendees and the guest speakers.
Any thriving economy requires that common elements and infrastructure be in place. Education is first and foremost on that list. The first guest speaker was Washington County School District (WCSD) Superintendent Larry Bergeson. He discussed the history of the WCSD’s involvement in the area and outlined their plans to bring every benefit they can to the Hildale area.
The WCSD has already invested 10 million dollars in the Water Canyon School building, and they intend to make further investments as the need arises. Bergeson discussed plans to acquire land for future development, including gym and vocational facilities. The WCSD is also focusing on internship and continuing education programs to help graduating students enter the workforce. This includes partnerships with local colleges and other institutions to ensure that students can see a clear path from education to the workforce and understand how to set and reach their career goals. “We’re here, and we will continue to fulfill that responsibility to educate the students here. That is indefinite. We are excited to be here! We will marshal all of our resources to take care of the needs of the children and the community here, as far as education is concerned,” said Bergeson.
Education is an ongoing process. As workers and business owners adapt to changing economic situations, there is a robust network of business and government institutions that provide a wealth of resources. Zachary Renstrom, Chairman of the Washington County Commission (WCC), discussed some of the things being done on the county level to help integrate the burgeoning workforce of the Hildale area to other areas of the region that are having trouble filling positions. He discussed plans to pave roadways to cut commute times from Hildale to Springdale which needs workers.
Tourism is another significant driver of the economy in Washington County, and he discussed the potential for Hildale in that respect. The WCC has also made a substantial investment in bringing a library branch to the community, which is now one of the most visited small branches in the Washington County Library network.
Jay Aguilar, of the Five County Association of Governments (FCAG), discussed the host of resources and support his organization provides to government, private, and non-profit partners across the region. The FCAG offers business loans for startups and business expansion, support in public transportation, elder care, home rehabilitation, and utility costs and basic needs for struggling families. They help to secure funding and facilitate collaboration across jurisdictional lines to promote economic development and sustainability. The FCAG focuses on addressing underlying community conditions to achieve that goal.
Pam Palermo, President of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce gave some background into the history of the UCC and the Southern Utah Regional Chamber Coalition (SURCC) which she invited the UCC to join. Chambers of commerce play an essential role in organizing and advocating for business interests. Inviting the UCC to join SURCC has been a fantastic resource for the UCC. The UCC is responsible for many of the positive changes happening in the community. “We’re all about making sure that the people in our communities, and our businesses, are heard and that they succeed,” said Palermo. Many connections can be built between business, government, and individuals, on many levels, and the Chambers help develop and strengthen those bonds.
The Utah Department of Workforce Services was represented by Liz Labado and Ben Baldonado. They provide yet another layer of resources to business owners, workers, and families. There are representatives from DWS available two days a week to help residents of Hildale, and they have had a long track record of helping people seek opportunity and personal growth in Short Creek.
The final speaker of the evening was Hildale City Mayor Donia Jessop. In her first month on the job, she has been working frantically, taking care of city business and getting up to speed in her new position as mayor. She reported that she and Councilman Jared Nicol had just got back from the State Capital where they spoke with representatives across the state. Senator Orrin Hatch’s office has also contacted her. She reported that there is a lot of excitement about the direction Short Creek is taking and that people at the state and federal level are watching and eager to engage. Mayor Donia said, “I want to acknowledge the citizens of Hildale and Colorado City; it’s hard not to say those two together. They are the strongest, most hard-working, and industrious people on this planet. And with that, I would like to include Centennial Park.” She went on to say, “I want to thank Washington County on every level. The State of Utah has completely stepped up. They have our backs; they want to see us succeed. I can’t thank them enough.”
If you would like to be more closely involved with the economic happenings in the area or take advantage of the numerous resources available, consider joining the Uzona Chamber of Commerce. They offer business and individual memberships. You can contact the UCC at www.uzonachamber.org or by phone at (435) 414-1790.