ST. GEORGE — As part of his continuing focus on growing and supporting economic development and opportunity in the rural heart of the state, Republican Governor-elect Spencer Cox has created a new position for his incoming cabinet – a senior advisor on rural affairs.
The new position fulfills a campaign promise “to raise the profile of rural issues within the Cox administration,” according to a press release issued by the Lt. Governor’s Office earlier this month.
Picked to be Cox’s senior rural affairs advisor is LaVerkin resident Stephen Lisonbee, who is also an assistant vice president of the Office of Regional Services at Southern Utah University. Prior to SUU, Lisonbee was the division director for Utah’s Workforce Development Division.
“We talked about items that are important to him (Cox) that he’s expressed during his campaign, which is to help rural Utah increase their voice and raise the profile on the rural issues,” Lisonbee said Friday.
The goal is to provide a “listening ear” to Utah’s rural counties and bring them together in order to help identify what economic growth and opportunities there are and then “building them up in their strengths, or matching resources and ensuring support,” Lisonbee said.
“It’ll be an opportunity to have a voice in the administration,” he added.
Lisonbee grew up in Delta where he said he was able to see the impact of agriculture, as well as the benefit that bringing industry in can have on a rural community. He’s gone on to live in Cedar City and Kanab in addition to LaVerkin.
Having lived his life in the rural parts of the state, Lisonbee said it is good to have an incoming governor who also comes from rural Utah and has served in rural communities as a city councilman, mayor and county commissioner. Outside of politics, Cox has worked as a lawyer, small business owner and farmer.
“I think one of the most important things that I see out of this is that we have a governor who’s lived in rural Utah, understands rural Utah and has led in rural Utah,” he said. “The ability to recognize rural Utah as a significant player at the table for the health and vitality of collective Utah is becoming increasingly important.”
Among the projects that Cox has promoted for the benefit of rural Utah residents is a telework program set up for state employees. The new governor has said such a program allows state employees who don’t live on the Wasatch Front to work from home and live in rural parts of the state where housing may not be as expensive as it is in the state’s urban centers.
“He instructively thinks about rural Utah at every opportunity there is,” Lisonbee said of Cox.
For the moment, Lisonbee said there are no immediate policies or goals set in place concerning rural Utah beyond the general focus of increasing its profile and promoting economic development in various forms.
However, a set of 15 goals for rural Utah will be presented to the governor-elect on Monday, St. George Mayor Jon Pike said. Pike serves as chair of a rural matters group put together last month by the incoming Cox administration that consists of the mayor and representatives from Beaver, Grand, Cache and Duchesne counties.
The groups were asked to review rural issues that had come up during the campaign and then put together aspirations, or goals, on how Cox’s administration could best address them, Pike said.
Three different timetables were also developed for the goals in addition to plans on how to accomplish them. These timetables include between the election and inauguration, Cox’s first 200 days in office, followed by the first 500 days with a 5,000-day horizon.
Pike was unable to go into detail on what goals the group had outlined, though added they will be made public once Cox’s administration adopts them.
The mayor said he hopes the 15 goals and timeline crafted by the rural matters group is able to serve as a road map for the governor-elect and Lisonbee as his senior rural affairs advisor.
Like Lisonbee, Pike also praised Cox’s continued focus on rural Utah.
“He’s been one who’s very committed, as a lieutenant governor, to really try to help have stuff happen in rural Utah, whether it’s jobs, critical projects, infrastructure and so on,” he said.
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