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3-day summit focuses on rural Utah's growing needs

Posted at 4:34 PM, Oct 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 23:47:27-04

CEDAR CITY, Utah — Rural Utah's growing needs are the focus of a three-day summit at Southern Utah University this week.

The 34th annual Governor's Rural Utah Summit — rebranded this year as the "One Utah Summit" — brings together policy makers from all over the state to focus on the needs of a large part of the state that is also one of the least populous.

"The whole 'One Utah' approach is every community, every individual has equitable access to the resources they want to find the quality of life they want to enjoy," said Stephen Lisonbee, who serves as Governor Spencer Cox's senior advisor for rural affairs.

While Utah is in the midst of a boom, rural areas in the state have not quite enjoyed the same level of success that urban areas around Salt Lake City and St. George have.

"Some communities are finding more success right now than they’ve ever had. Even on the tail end of the pandemic," Lisonbee said in an interview with FOX 13. "While others are still struggling."

The focus of this year's summit appears to be largely on economic development and infrastructure demands. Members of Gov. Cox's cabinet were at the summit to meet and discuss available resources and initiatives. Congressman John Curtis spoke in a video message about a broadband bill he is working on, while representatives from Rocky Mountain Power, the Utah Hospital Association and other groups spoke of projects they're working on that could benefit rural areas.

Some rural leaders were happy to see the state focus more attention on their communities.

"They’re focusing more on rural Utah now than they have in the past — which is good. But they still struggle with allowing local governments to have local control," said Grand County Commission Chair Mary McGann, who cited some issues in the Moab area she felt the state intruded on local decision making powers.

Projects to help boost rural Utah's economies and improve infrastructure will not come cheap. Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson acknowledged that some of them are more costly than they would be along the Wasatch Front. She argued to the crowd it was still worth it.

"Sometimes some of these communities need investment, they need infrastructure," she told FOX 13. "It’s their right, it’s what they need to be able to have the same opportunities the rest of us have. But it’s often more expensive, and we shouldn’t let that be an excuse to not act."

To also help, the state is starting to focus more on luring companies to rural Utah instead of the Salt Lake City area.

"Now we’re trying to incentivize people to go and move and grow in other places," Lt. Gov. Henderson said. "Remote work has also provided another opportunity. We’ve already put more than 100 state employees in remote work situations and businesses can do that, too."