In the face of a termination letter sent by the county’s economic development consultant, the Morgan County Council unanimously decided to keep the consultant on board.
Since the county council is a part-time council and lacks the money to hire a full-time economic development director, Councilwoman Tina Kelley said it would be best to stay with the month-to-month contract with consultant Better City.
“Better City knows how to move things forward and the different mechanisms available,” Kelley said.
Councilman Lyle Nelson said the $42,000 the county has to spend each year on economic development has been well spent with Better City.
“We are getting a lot more than that out of it,” Nelson said. “I hate to switch horses midstream,” especially with the ongoing Como Springs feasibility study and BEHR program.
While the council agreed, some members said they would like to “reign in” Better City in the future.
For example, the council didn’t agree that a sky festival was a good fit for Morgan. Also, the council would like to see monthly updates on economic development efforts. Kelley said there had been some “miscommunications” with Better City in the past, but knows the consultant “doesn’t want to be out of sorts with anybody.”
Many on the council agreed with the idea that it makes best economic sense to help existing business expand than it does to bring in new businesses.
That has also been the approach of the Morgan Area Chamber of Commerce, Wilde said.
“How can we help existing businesses move out of the back bedroom and into a storefront?” Nelson asked.
Noting three establishments that have recently gone out of business, Councilman Ned Mecham was a little skeptical about economic development efforts.
“The economy is going to produce economic development,” Mecham said. “I just don’t know if we are going to.”
“We can’t tell people where to shop and work. We can only make sure our systems are working so people know they are welcome and we do not throw roadblocks in front of people who want to come,” Councilman Robert Kilmer said. “The council has made a lot of inroads in this. We need to continue to improve our systems so we support anyone who is here, who is here and wants to expand, or who wants to come in.”
Nelson said economic development is a process that can be compared to a farmer and his field. “You have to clear the land, level the land, fertilize and plow before you can get seeds in, and before you can get crops,” Nelson said. “The stage we are at is we have cleared the land.”
And Nelson would like to continue the process with Better City alongside to help. He said the council could do more in the future to “formally” approve the consultant’s moves.
Kilmer said Morgan County has a lot going for it already, with the eighth lowest tax rate in the state and the lowest in the state when considering the percentage that goes to the county.
With the mentality that new businesses should pay for their own infrastructure, Morgan County struggles to compete with other Wasatch Front municipalities that have partnered to make sure infrastructure is already in place, Kilmer said.
“It is a reality that someone has got to pay for that infrastructure, but a lot of other communities have found ways to fund it,” Kilmer said. “There are a lot of options and we need to look at them all. We may dismiss them quickly, but we need to look at them all.”
Improving infrastructure such as power actually could benefit more than just a business, Wilde said. “The general public is benefitting when better substations and poles are put in,” he said.
Kelley discouraged the council from raising taxes in order to pay for infrastructure or to entice businesses to locate in the valley.
“I have always believed growth should pay for itself,” Kelley said. “Growth is going to come, it is inevitable. But there is some trade off.”
Many council members said they support a revival of Como Springs.
“We could get more people in to recreate,” Councilman Austin Turner said. “They will buy a burger or pretzel, soda pop or candy bar. If they do, we are better off.”
Turner also asked the council to consider making it easier for people to build recreation cabins, perhaps in the East Canyon area. Kelley mentioned that residents had already identified East Canyon as an area they would like to see developed as a resort zone. Wilde encouraged the council to consider the greenbelt designation when considering zoning for cabins.