Shaping St. George: One-on-one with Mayor Jon Pike

St. George Mayor Jon Pike speaks with St. George News at City Hall, St. George, Utah. 2019 | Photo by Frank Forza, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — It’s noteworthy that Jon Pike helps oversee one of America’s fastest growing cities, and a spending budget that will reach $352 million next year, yet his job as mayor of St. George is only part-time.

When studying Pike’s robust resume, “busy” seems an understatement.

By day, the married father of five works as Regional Operations Director for SelectHealth, the health insurance arm of Intermountain Healthcare. The MBA holder and University of Utah grad sits on too many boards to mention, but they include Dixie State University, Dixie Applied Technology College, Utah League of Cities and Towns and St. George Area Economic Development.

After hours, the 53-year-old sings, plays piano, organ and guitar.

One of the constant challenges facing Pike, the City Council, their staff and the entire community is, “How do we harmoniously balance St. George’s superb quality of life (small-town feel, outdoor paradise) with quality of jobs?

For a strategic planner who frequently ponders how to strike that delicate balance, one can’t help but wonder, “How does Jon Pike balance his own busy life?”

Based on appearances, the face of St. George doesn’t look the least bit sleep-deprived, over-stressed, nor hurried. Quite the opposite: Pike comes across as energetic, folksy and affable — wielding an unassuming ‘aw-shucks’ kind of ethos that perhaps disarms criticism.

That might help explain why Pike won the Mayor’s office in 2013, unseating Dan McArthur, the mayor of nearly two decades.

“I represent the city, but most importantly, I represent the citizens,” he says. “I really do view this as: This is ours, together. The citizens own this city. I don’t own this city — I’ve just been asked to help direct it for awhile.

“I tell people this all the time: It’s your city. You’re the shareholders.”

When hailing St. George’s prized quality of life, Pike invokes the so-called “8-8-8 Mindset”: 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, 8 hours of play.

It is an attractive formula, and it’s the growing demographic of 8-8-8 proponents — craving greater work-life balance — whom Pike feels provide major muscle to the area’s surging growth.

Eager to pick the mayor’s brain on a host of topics, St. George News’ Frank Forza recently sat down for 90 minutes with Mayor Pike. During the one-on-one interview, Pike addressed a wide range of questions and pressing issues, such as:

How do you create higher-paying jobs so that more kids who grow up in St. George will stay and work here as adults?

Will you run for re-election, a third term as Mayor of St. George?

How much marketing and advertising does St. George want to do to attract new residents and businesses?

What’s your favorite part of the job?

How does St. George both protect its paradise and develop responsibly?

Here is Part 1 of the Q & A with the mayor. St. George News will publish Part 2 of the interview on Monday.

STGNews: You’re halfway into your second term. Will you seek a third term as mayor?

Mayor Pike: I’m planning to (run), yes.

We haven’t talked about it that much, mostly because this year is an election year for three city council members in our city, and so we’ll let them have their contest before we talk about two years from now.

But, yeah, that’s my plan.

You know, we don’t have term limits in the state of Utah, that I’m aware of. And that’s the same for mayor and city council in our city.

I’d like to do a third term, but I do believe that we should limit our service and let others have opportunities to offer their service and put their personalities and talents to the needs of the city and the citizens. So I won’t do it for too long, but I am planning to run for a third term.

STGNews: In addition to public meetings, the City of St. George conducts quite a few public (online) surveys. Over 12,000 locals offered ideas about the Master Plan for parks, trails, recreation and arts, and you’re hoping for at least 3,500 or so to participate in the ongoing high-speed internet broadband study. Talk about using those surveys to guide policy and shape the city.

Mayor Pike: We’re gonna’ get a better product. Whether it’s a master plan for arts, parks and recreation, trails… or whether it’s this survey on internet speed. Or whether it’s our General Plan, which we’ll be announcing soon.

We’re gonna’ redo the General Plan for the whole city. It’s gonna’ be huge. It’ll probably take us a year and a half to do. Again, it’s going to be based heavily on public input. We’re gonna’ have to take the show on the road; this won’t be able to be done, you know, just digitally over the internet. And neither was our parks Master Plan — we try to use multiple tools, and we’ll do the same with this. Only this will be much bigger and encompass the whole city.

We’ll look really hard at areas in particular that we feel might need some extra attention and to be redeveloped.

We want to know what people think about it. We don’t have all the answers. We have some really good minds and good planners that work for the city and our City Manager. They have been places, seen things, and been taught and educated on these things, but we want to hear what the people think and what they want. We don’t claim to have all the answers. So we owe that to the citizens, who are the only reason that we exist.

STGNews: What’s your favorite part of being mayor?

Mayor Pike: I’m kind of a planner by nature. I’ve done a fair bit of that in my career. I like looking at the infrastructure, looking at what our zoning is going to be in a particular area, and then doing our part to help that be rolled out. For me, it’s been significant that we’ve been able to get Tech Ridge going up at the old airport site. To see that go vertical with the first private building here, any week now with Printer Logic, that’ll be really cool.

The same thing with Desert Color, Desert Canyons, the downtown area with the mixed-used projects going on, the university and their expansion. Being a part of those things, in terms of going from on-paper, ‘Here’s what we’d like to do… Here’s what we could do’ …. or in our case sometimes saying, ‘Here’s what we’d like to see in this particular area’…

The different housing types needed, the different retail and offices… those planning functions are something I really enjoy, because I think I want the same thing everyone else wants, which is a well-organized and economically vibrant city. A place that has all the quality of life that we’re used to, but a place that also has more opportunity for our young people that we’re raising and educating, to be able to stay here, with higher wages and job opportunities. That’s going to come over time as a result of partnering with the business and educational communities. That’s something we’re trying to do that I really enjoy.

I happen to be on the Board of Trustees for Dixie State University, as well as Dixie Technical College. That is huge for us to have strong connections with those educational partners. Knowing what their thoughts are, and them knowing what our vision is, are critical to being able to have it all go forward in a sensible way that will benefit people. That’s why I’m in it.

It’s not just me, but the city council, the city manager, many of our leaders in education and business, I think we share a vision to keep the quality of life we have, and yet knowing we need to share it with others who are being born and raised in our community, and who want to come to our community, just like many of us have. And provide that economy, and infrastructure that supports it.

STGNews: How do you envision St. George Regional Airport impacting the balance between quality of life and economic development?

Mayor Pike: As we re-open the airport here in September, we’ll be reopening with Skywest and American Eagle flying in and out of Ft. Worth — that’s gonna’ be huge.

We now have people able to access St. George from Dallas/Ft. Worth, which is a huge hub, LA, Denver, Phoenix, Salt Lake… daily, and in most cases, multiple flights. As that happens, and as there is more competition even within those carriers, but American, Delta and United are big carriers.

As I recall, there are 92 distinct destinations out of Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport that none of those other airports fly to. Of course they fly to hundreds of destinations, but there are 92 distinct ones that none of those other airports fly to, that we are now going to open up to those that live in the St. George area, or those that want to come here.

Some of the distinct destinations include: South America, the Carribean …

This facilitates daily flights, so that’s gonna’ be big.

We have the blessing and curse of Vegas being 115 miles away. It’s great for all that Vegas offers, including an airport. They have so many flights. It’s a great thing, but for St. George Regional Airport, we’ve got to compete with that. And, you know, that is difficult because so many people fly in and out of Vegas, making it so attractive to multiple carriers. We’re never gonna’ be like that, but with 5 to 6 million people visiting this area (annually) — 4 and ½ to 5 million to Zion alone — as we diversify that and help people understand all that is here…

Again, our business climate, we’re gonna’ have more and more people that are able to live, work and play right here in St. George. And as they do that, they’re gonna’ occasionally need to fly out to where their headquarters are, the company they work for, or their clients.

I mean, I know people right now that are so affected by our airport being down — they are so ready for it to be open again. They’re saying, “Are you gonna’ open the airport on time?” because it’s huge to their personal business.

So we’re going to see more and more people who, due to technology, they can work from anywhere and they’re gonna’ do it — as long as we don’t have any limitations on them here (in St. George) with our digital infrastructure.

So many people today are of that 8-8-8 mindset; work 8 hours, play 8 hours, sleep 8 hours. We talk a lot about that. So as more people have that feeling, that desire for balance… that work-life-family balance… I think they’re going to say, ‘St. George is a place we can do that. It’s just big enough, it’s just small enough. I can live here, I can enjoy it, I can get across town in 15 or 20 minutes instead of an hour.

STGNews: How much do you want to advertise campaigns nationally, etc… marketing St. George to the rest of the world so that more tourists come and people relocate here? How do you achieve that balance of alerting others without paving paradise and compromising quality of life?

Or do you leave much of the relocation to St. George up to people organically discovering the city without many advertising campaigns?

How much do you want to do, in terms of advertising campaigns, to accelerate population and economic growth in St. George? Or do you prefer that most of the growth be organic and natural without many advertising campaigns?

Mayor Pike: It’s probably gonna’ be a hybrid approach. The main reason is this: We get, and the county gets, and the state gets, a sales tax called ‘The Transient Room Tax.’ TRT is what we call it. It’s obviously a hotel/motel-based kind of tax, so by state law a certain portion of those taxes collected at the county level — I believe it’s 47% — have to be spent on advertising and marketing-related things. In other words, it’s to keep the pipeline flowing.

So because of that we’re going to, at least for tourism purposes, we’re going to be marketing the place.

St. George?

Mayor Pike: Well, it’s ‘Greater Zion,’ that’s what we call it now. It was kind of, ‘St. George Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.’ It’s now, just in the last few months, they’ve recently rebranded and they’re calling it Greater Zion (Convention and Tourism Office).

That doesn’t mean, they won’t have, underneath of that (campaign), St. George or Springdale or Washington; they’ll do that. There will be (trickle-down).

There is also, separately but related, St. George Area Economic Development. That is a county-wide effort where the bigger cities are members of that. It’s a small organization with two full-time employees, but they are more on the economic development side as it relates to business.

The tourism, ‘Greater Zion’, is really based more on sports tourism and of course Zion and our parks and other kinds of tourism.

So those two entities, in addition to the efforts of individual cities, are going to have some effect on bringing people here, whether it’s tourism or new companies.

For example, St. George Economic Development, the desire there is all about diversifying our workforce and economy. Increasing the wages here — because we do have low wages, on average, and that’s difficult. Especially because we have many people moving here from other states who are further along in their career, maybe they bring passive income, or some wealth from selling a home in another market that is more pricey… they come here and it can inflate the price of (St. George) housing.

So if we have lower-than-average wages, and higher-than-average housing costs, we have an imbalance. So we have to make sure that we are not just bringing in tourism — which is good because it helps our hotels, motels, restaurants and retail — but those jobs are not your highest-paying jobs. Now, the owners (of those establishments) are probably doing pretty well, but we need to make sure that we’re helping and opening our doors, and that our regulations and zoning are welcoming to businesses… whether they’re Tech, Biotech, or anything else… that they say, ‘This is a fertile field.’

Join us on Monday as we publish Part 2 of our one-on-one interview with Mayor Pike.

Email: fforza@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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