ST. GEORGE — Wallethub.com released a study that ranked St. George, Utah, as the best small city in the U.S. for starting a business. Cedar City ranked second, and Washington City was fourth.
Don Willie, President and CEO of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, said that the ranking, which considered factors such as business environment, access to resources, and business costs – wasn’t surprising.
“Everything that we’ve been working toward these past few years has got us here,” Willie told St. George News. “What’s interesting is that they included COVID-19 as a determining factor. ”
Willie said that St. George’s low number of cases, as well as deaths, ensured that the city would climb the rankings.
“As a community, we worked really hard to find a balance between keeping people safe, while we kept on living,” Willie said. “Our Safe Southern Utah Campaign was all about encouraging businesses to take the necessary precautions needed to remain open.”
COVID-19 may have created a window for aspiring entrepreneurs to turn their dreams into reality, Willie said.
“During economic downturns, we’ve traditionally seen more businesses pop up,” he said. “You’ve got two groups of people. The first are those who already had an idea. They may have lost their job, so they make the leap to starting their own business.”
The second group, Willie said, is made up of people who have more time on their hands.
“They have time to dream things up, and make them happen,” he said.
“They start imagining the possibilities,” he said. “Then, in the absence of other opportunities, they start a business.”
Tyler Taggart, who co-founded Local Chow, counts himself among them. By day, he runs Amazon e-commerce for Black Rifle Coffee Company. When the pandemic compelled many offices to close down or limit their capacities, Taggart began working from home.
That’s when he decided to launch Local Chow.
“I still put in eight hours a day for Black Rifle,” Taggart told St. George News. “I worked extra hours to keep Local Chow going.”
As workers like Taggart, who lived in Salt Lake City before relocating to St. George, were freed from the confines of the office, many took the opportunity to move to their city of choice. St. George and Cedar City have become popular destinations for transplants from California, Oregon, and Nevada.
“People find us for our quality of life,” Cedar City Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Chris McCormick told St. George News. “Our pro-business approach just sweetens the deal.”
McCormick said that in his office alone, there’s a bevy of organizations dedicated to ensuring that business owners’ needs are met.
“Whether you’re starting a business,” McCormick said, “looking for ways to expand, or seeking an exit strategy, we’ve got you covered.”
McCormick added that the volunteerism in Southern Utah is a sign of the character of those who live here, and those that follow.
“We attract hard workers who want to give back,” he said.
St. George City councilman Gregg McArthur said that Southern Utah is a great place to live.
“We’re a recreation destination,” McArthur told St. George News. “No matter what you like to do, it’s here or a short drive away. If I was going to start a business, I’d start it here.”
But the cat’s out of the bag on that one. As population growth rises, it’s harder to find a place to live. Because of that scarcity, the cost of housing has also increased.
“It’s definitely a hurdle,” Willie said. “But it’s not a deterrent. Whether you were born here, or just got here last week, we’re all transplants to some extent.”
With more residents comes the need for more services and broader variety, Willie said. “Which creates more opportunity.”
Chris Connors, who owns Farmstead Bakery in St. George, is riding that wave of opportunity. After moving to St. George from Nevada, Connors opened his doors a little over a month ago.
“Already business is booming,” Connors told St. George News. “The reception is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. They really appreciate new businesses here.”
The opportunity is, in part, what’s fueling growth in St. George. While citizens have mixed feelings, Willie sees growth as a good thing.
“We want growth,” Willie added. “Of course, we can control growth, or the growth will control us.”
To prevent the latter, McArthur stressed the importance of planning.
“We’ve got to develop a good general plan,” McArthur said. “And we’ve got to stick to it. ”
Willie said Southern Utah still has work to do, as St. George ranked 211 in business costs, and 395 in access to resources.
“We should be proud of ranking number one in that study,” he said. “But we must also come together to ask: How can we do this even better? We’ve got to face these challenges head on.”
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.