Attendees at economic summit positive about future; businesses, projects showcased

Attendees at the 2015 What's Up Down South Economic Summit, St. George, Utah, Jan. 15, 2015 | Photo by Melissa Anderson, KCSG and St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Public officials and business people came together at the 18th “What’s Up Down South” economic summit at the Dixie Center St. George, Thursday. They met to network and catch a glimpse of the economic forecast for Washington County; and for presenters and attendees alike, the forecast for 2015 is a bright one.

“I should have worn my sunglasses, because like the old song says, ‘our future’s so bright,’” summit attendee Greg Aldred, of Viperpay.com, said. “That’s how I feel our economy is heading.”

Steven Burgess, of Arkon Financial, who has been attending the summit for 1o years, said he enjoys attending the summit because, “It’s a good place to connect with other business people in the community; it’s nice to have a pulse on the economy.”

Keynote speakers at the summit included Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, regional economist Lecia Langston, of the Utah Department of Workforce Services, and two-time Olympian Noelle Pikus-Pace.

Speaker highlights

Cox shared a snapshot the state economy and said Utah has the nation’s 4th most diverse economy; is is one of the fastest growing states in the tech industry; and one of the Top 10 states for personal income growth. Read more: Summit predicts continued, steady economic growth for Washington County and Utah named nerdiest state in US; Lt. Gov: Technology is good but ….

Washington County continues to do well as it enters the new year with strong, yet moderate economic growth, Langston said. Unemployment is at 4 percent in the county and reaching a point that a qualified individual searching for a job will likely get one. It also means a shrinking labor market, which means employers may have to start raising new-hire wages in order to attract quality employees. Read more: Summit predicts continued, steady economic growth for Washington County; STGnews Videocast.

Pikus-Pace spoke to the importance of moving forward and goal-setting in the wake of a setback. In her case, she said, setting goals helped her bounce back from an accident that delayed her going to the 2006 Winter Olympics. She ultimately made her Olympic debut in 2010, and won a silver medal in 2014. Read more: 2-time Olympian addresses economic summit, stresses goal-setting.

County and region

Numerous public officials attended the summit. Among them was recently elected Washington County Commissioner Zach Renstrom, who was optimistic about the new year.

“In my opinion the outlook is looking very bright,” Renstrom said. “With the whole economy turning around, that’s going to help us and I think we’re in a prime position to take advantage of that.”

Renstrom added he liked attending the summit because it allows him to network with other public officials and business people. It also served as an opportunity to hear feedback from constituents about how city and county-level economic policies may be affecting people, he said.

Bryan Thiriot, executive director of the Five County Association of Governments, which represents Beaver, Garfield, Iron, Kane, and Washington counties, was also at the summit.

Thiriot said the overall economic outlook for the five-county region looks good, though there are pockets that aren’t “firing on all cylinders.” An example of that was the suspension of operations at the Comstock Mountain Mine in Iron County last year that saw the layoff of around 100 people.

Over in Kane County, however, it was recently announced by the mayor of Kanab that two large hotel projects are going to be built in his city, Thiriot said.

Both Thiriot and Renstrom said a challenge for the county and the region this year, however, will be water as regional snow packs continue to be low.

Some changes, highlights

This year saw some changes in how the summit showcased new and expanding businesses, cities, institutions, and ongoing projects that impact the economy of Southern Utah. In previous years these items were showcased in a “rapid-fire” session in the Dixie Center ballroom during which representatives of featured businesses or institutions gave a series of two-to-three minute presentations to summit attendees. This year the presentation was done entirely by video.

Other changes to the summit included the introduction of the “What’s Up Down South” smartphone app that attendees could download and access in place of the binders handed out in previous summits.

Some highlights from the video presentation:

Viracon: A glass manufacturer with a facility in the Fort Pierce Industrial Park, temporarily closed the plant in early 2013 and announced Sept. 11, 2014, that it was reopening. The company is investing $2.2 million into restarting the facility with about 190 people projected to be hired by March.

Wilson Electronics: Based in St. George since 1992, Wilson Electronics is known for manufacturing and selling cellular phone boosters. The company has seen substantial growth including establishing an international office in Malaysia, acquisition of a new product brand, and the launch of another brand slated to take place in the coming months. The company’s growth rate has exceeded 20 percent over the past five years, with it expecting to continue that trend in 2015.

Environmental Stoneworks: A national stone-veneer manufacturer and installer with a new facility in the Fort Pierce Industrial Park, the company has expanded its facility and currently employs 45 people, with a total of 100 to be hired within the next 12-18 months.

Dixie Regional Medical Center: Terri Kane, CEO of Dixie Regional, announced that the hospital had been approved to add a 300,000-square foot expansion to its River Road campus at a cost of $182 million. Work on the expansion is expected to begin in 2016, with the hospital moving into the expansion by the middle of 2018.

Dixie State University: DSU President Richard Williams emphasized the university’s five-year strategic plan for moving forward, and also how DSU will work with the City of St. George with it’s own five-year plan to accomplish common goals. He also said DSU wants to offer programs that make sense for the area and help build the area’s economy.

Fiesta Fun Center: Brett Crockett, owner of Fiesta Fun, said the center has added a 40,000-square foot facility that will include 20 lanes of “cosmic” bowling, 16 regular lanes of bowling, laser tag, an expended arcade, a restaurant, a 1,000-square foot conference room, and other attractions and amenities. Between 20-30 new jobs are expected to be created in connection with the new facility which is slated to be open by Feb. 10.

Electric Theater: An ongoing project for the City of St. George since it’s purchase in early 2013, the Electric Theater is being restored and renovated to become an anchor for the arts in downtown St. George. The city is restoring the theater itself, which was built in 1911, while rebuilding two adjacent buildings that were demolished in December 2014. When completed, the complex will serve as a place where the city’s visual and performing arts groups can gather. The cost of the restoration and rebuild is estimated at around $3 million.

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