EVANSTON — The Thomas P. Miller Report on the recently-conducted target market study for Uinta County and south Lincoln County and the possibility of a one-cent capital facilities tax were the primary topics of discussion at the meeting of the Uinta County Economic Development Commission on Wednesday, June 26.
Commission chair Brent Hatch asked for reports from committee members who had been assigned different areas of the Miller Report to investigate. Owen Petersen presented first on the situation with hemp production in the area now that such production has been legalized by the Wyoming legislature.
Petersen said that, although the legislature did pave the way for hemp cultivation and production during the last legislative session, the plan submitted by the state has yet to be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which must be done before anything else can happen at the state level.
State Sen. Wendy Schuler was in attendance and provided an update on the current status, saying the earliest anyone expects to hear back from the USDA is sometime this fall. Schuler said there are still numerous licensing and regulatory issues to be sorted out before cultivation can begin, and an accredited lab must still be set up as well. She said she knows there are people in Uinta County who are eager to get started growing hemp, but added, “I hate to say we’re still a couple years out, but that’s probably realistic.”
Gary Welling reported on the logo and brand suggested by the Miller Report — the Wasatch Frontier. He said he didn’t really care for the idea when it was first suggested but he has started to think there is some value to it with the booming Utah economy that can be taken advantage of locally.
Welling said he wants people to know the market study was very thorough and local people were extensively interviewed during the process.
“A great amount of work went into this,” he said.
Welling further said the report provides ideas and direction, which was lacking previously. He emphasized that local officials fully intend to follow through on the ideas presented.
“We might fall flat on our faces with this, but it won’t be from lack of effort,” he said.
Dan Wheeler reported on his assignment of speaking with companies that specialize in helping businesses select sites for new enterprises. Wheeler said he had been investigating the Site Selectors Guild, which is the world’s largest location adviser group. There will be a forum in March and other forums and trade shows that local officials can attend.
Welling said some of the forums and trade shows include a “Consultant Connect” element, which is almost like a speed dating situation when representatives are able to give a brief presentation on their community and then are able to meet with multiple different companies one after another.
Wheeler said his research has led him to believe the area needs to develop a “vibrant website” that emphasizes the area’s strengths, available commercial properties, the workforce and more so anyone looking for more information can find it easily accessible.
Evanston Community Development Director Rocco O’Neill said he agrees a website is important. O’Neill said he thinks it is crucial for the community to be working on luring businesses on its own and not only relying on the Wyoming Business Council. He said Elaina Zempel of the WBC does exemplary work on behalf of southwest Wyoming, but the WBC primarily works for the legislature and orbits around larger communities like Cheyenne and Casper.
Wheeler agreed with O’Neill’s assessment and said, “The state is not going to help us. We have to be our own engine to generate this.”
Tib Ottley provided an update on commercial properties available in the region and said there are about a dozen industrial properties available at the present time. Ottley said, although there is quite a bit of commercial property available, the housing rental market is quite tight currently.
“It’s as tight as it’s been in the last 15 years,” he said.
Hatch then reported on his attendance at a meeting of the Salt Lake County Economic Development Commission. He said he had spoken extensively with members of that commission and gotten ideas for how to promote southwest Wyoming. Hatch said it would be a good idea to promote the proximity to the Wasatch Front, including the travel time, as well as the costs of real estate in the area, which are significantly below costs in Utah.
“The average base price for a home in Park City is $2 million,” said Hatch.
He said the area should be promoted as safe and clean, with lots of green space, and that promotion should also focus on local history.
“We need to tell the story,” Hatch said.
Discussion then turned to the possibility of pursuing a one-cent capital facilities tax for various public works projects through a special election. Hatch said such a tax would need to be approved by the Uinta County Commission and officials from three of the four communities impacted (Evanston, Bear River, Mountain View and Lyman) prior to being put on a ballot for voters.
Specific projects would need to be identified to be completed with the funding at a set cost, with the tax eliminated once the set amount is raised. The tax has been suggested previously to potentially help with developing a technical college, repurposing buildings at the Wyoming State Hospital, constructing an event center and more.
O’Neill said Uinta is one of the very few counties in the state that doesn’t already have the extra tax to use for various projects, which would allow all of the communities in the county to tackle expensive projects that would benefit each community.
Wheeler said he thinks it’s something that should be aggressively pursued.
“The quicker we get going on this, the better,” he said. “Let’s hold a special election on it.”
Welling suggested a meeting be held with the Uinta County Commission to assess commissioner support before moving any further with the idea.
“If the commissioners don’t support it, it’s dead in the water,” he said.
Schuler said she has already spoken with the mayors of Lyman and Mountain View and said they are both supportive. Schuler said there are numerous projects that could be completed with the revenues and each community would be able to select those projects.
“We’re behind the eight ball on this,” she said. “Let’s get going.”