After nearly a year of regular coverage of Uinta County Economic Development Commission meetings by Herald reporters, which included a summary of the Thomas P. Miller & Associates market study report, we at the Herald believe the $50,000-plus could have been better spent.
During the oil boom of the 1970s and ’80s, Chevron and city administrators collaborated to hold a large public meeting in the Evanston High School (now the Evanston Middle School) to address economic development. They divided those attending (which were quite a few by our recollection) into groups led by a moderator. Each group was assigned a target area of concern and the task was to look at the problems in that area and brainstorm possible solutions.
The target areas were similar to those addressed in the Miller study — industry, human services, education, law enforcement, transportation and housing and possibly others.
Some of those brainstorming solutions became reality with the construction of the recreation center and the human services building, increased law enforcement, and new schools and apartment buildings. Of course, we realize there was oil money to help with solutions at that time.
Our point is that the Miller study did not tell us anything that business owners, local government entities and private citizens didn’t already know. The suggestions of the Miller report for possible industries to attract to the area — including blockchain technology, wind and solar manufacturing and firearms and ammunition manufacturing — are ideas that have been discussed for months in meeting after meeting of the Economic Development Commission; no new ideas in those suggestions.
At a recent Uinta County Commission work session, a suggestion was made to possibly seek out grant funding to contract out a study of the old Wyoming State Hospital buildings to assess their condition and offer possible suggestions as to what to do with the campus when it is vacated in a year or two. This same suggestion of having a study conducted was brought up nearly two years prior following a community meeting at the Machine Shop about the WSH campus.
Some of us at the Herald are familiar with a saying that is something to the effect of “When government officials don’t know what else to do, they commission a study to make it look like they’re doing something.” We can’t help but feel there’s a bit of that going on here.
Again, we have to wonder if there is anything a several-thousand-dollar study of the WSH could tell us that community members don’t already know. We feel certain there are local citizens who are familiar with the hospital and the condition of those buildings, and we have to wonder why local knowledge is not being utilized as the first option — if at all — instead of the last.
Granted the recent Miller report did mention several names of companies looking to move into other locales and they did provide possible methods for attracting them to Lincoln and Uinta counties.
But those suggestions are meaningless without action.
How many of our local government representatives have ever read Evanston’s Plan 2010 or Plan 2030? Plan 2010 is on the city’s website, but Plan 2030 is not. We borrowed a copy of Plan 2030 from a city official.
In 2009, then-city planner Paul Knopf and a committee of local people worked together and compiled Plan 2030. That plan is very similar to the results of the Miller study and covers more areas of improvement. Perhaps we should have turned to Plan 2030 for ideas before hiring outside consultants to generate the same ideas very qualified locals had generated years ago.
The vision that local people had for the future of Evanston in Plan 2030 seems very possible with small incremental steps, grant writing, budgeting, informed and involved business owners and citizens. Knowledge is the key to the door of change.
We as a community have plans that were created with public involvement and input; however, just as with the Miller study, they require action to bring them to fruition.
As far as the brand the Miller Report suggests for our area — the Wasatch Frontier — we like that it reflects our natural environment and our history of being a frontier; however, we also recognize some people do not like it at all because they think it makes us appear as marketing Utah. There could be ways to use that brand to our advantage since we are close to Utah and the amenities the city offers, yet we have no state income tax or huge corporate tax; both are advantages to companies wanting to relocate.
Why not hold a public meeting similar to the one during the boom and let citizens brainstorm ways of using that brand — the Wasatch Frontier — to southwest Wyoming’s advantage? Now, just as then, encouraging citizen involvement allows for people to take ownership of those ideas, which means they’re more likely to follow through with action instead of just sitting through yet one more meeting of talk.
We are not criticizing Thomas P. Miller & Associates’ work; they were hired to do a specific task and they did it well. We just think that many Lincoln and Uinta county residents could have come to similar or the same conclusions with just volunteer time spent brainstorming solutions and at little or no cost. The Economic Development Commission members could act as moderators to lead group discussions and problem solving.
Grant money isn’t free. It doesn’t fall from the sky. Our local government had to match part of the $50,000 grant, as is the case nearly every time we or anyone gets a grant.
In our opinion, in order to justify the grant and local monies spent on the Miller market report study, action must be taken quickly, with clear steps identified and someone appointed to take those steps. Even with the suggestions of the Miller study, public involvement and utilization of the vast wealth of knowledge and imagination in our greatest resource — our people — is critical to ensure any amount of success to remedy the economic situation in Uinta County.