A new economic development director is at the helm of Morgan County, beginning employment Dec. 12 and officially addressing the Morgan County Council during its first meeting of the year Jan. 3.
Stephen Lyon comes to Morgan from the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED). Lyon was hired there as the Utah Procurement Technical Assistant Center (PTAC) Program regional manager in October of 2014 to assist businesses in Central Utah to obtain federal, state and local government contracts.
As part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), he helped small to mid-sized Utah companies find, bid on and win government contracts as a way to expand and grow their businesses. He worked with federal, state and local government leaders, chambers of commerce and companies in 11 Utah counties including Utah, Carbon, Duchesne, Juab, Millard and Sanpete, as well as in the Uintah Basin and Southern and Central Utah.
“Once you get off the Wasatch Front, there are similar issues all across rural Utah,” Lyon said. “You need a balanced economy, not one only reliant on taxes from housing. You need to fire on all cylinders, bring the right toolbox, get the right retail, and get the right mix of growth.”
Lyon has been coming to Morgan for years for family reunions, as his grandmother lived here in her early years, canning peas in the factory. Her aunt lived in Hardscrabble Canyon. He and his wife have enjoyed dining at Taggart’s for years.
“Morgan has great potential,” Lyon said. “It is a hidden gem on the back side of the Wasatch with great amenities.”
Lyon is also familiar with the challenges of running his own business, including one in Ghana for three years and another currently in manufacturing and sales.
“I understand small businesses and how they work,” he said. He said his knowledge of how to obtain capital and handle start-up issues like employment, taxes, market capabilities and knowing your market will be helpful in Morgan County.
Lyon’s resume also includes three years’ of grant writing for Mountainland Aging and Family Services in Orem, where he was the development director, helped oversee the Mountainland Foundation and developed community partnerships. In that position, he became very familiar with issues facing Wasatch, Summit and Utah Counties.
His grant-writing abilities were also shared with the Great Salt Lake Council of the Boy Scouts of America, where he was a contract grant writer from 2009 to 2010. He was also senior district executive of the same BSA council for five years, from 2002 to 2007.
He earned a Masters of Public Administration (MPA), as well as a bachelor’s in history and a bachelor’s in German, all from the University of Utah.
Lyon beat out 10 other applicants, said Morgan County Councilman John Barber. Barber was one of three Morgan County Councilmembers, along with the human resources director, who were on a committee to select the county’s next economic development director. They chose six “very well qualified” applicants to interview.
“It was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. He is well rounded and knows a lot of people,” Barber said of Lyon. “He is well connected.”
Barber said the deciding point was after the finalists had made a presentation to the committee on the topic “why a business should move into Morgan County.”
“They had a week to put it together, basically how they would woo a business to the county,” Barber said. “It was impressive.”
Over three years ago, Morgan County brought on Better City as its economic development consultant, paying the firm $500 each month. Better City spent time on an infrastructure assessment as well as studies of bringing a hotel to the county and redeveloping the Como Springs area.
In January of 2016, a year ago, Morgan County contracted with Marlin Eldred to provide economic development services on a part-time basis. He was paid $4,500 monthly for six months. The county then hired Eldred on full-time in August for a $70,000 annual salary. In October, Eldred stepped down from the position to take a job as Lehi City’s economic development director.
The short tenure of the county’s first full-time economic development director was on the minds of the selection committee, who didn’t want to see turnover again in the near future, Barber said.
“We addressed it,” he said, noting Lyons moved from Alpine to Kaysville to be closer to Morgan County. “We want a long-term candidate.”
“I committed to the county to be here,” Lyons said. “This is a great position for me.”
Eldred was instrumental in selecting his Morgan replacement, and helped smooth out the transition to a new employee, Barber said.
“When Marlin left, he left us in a good place,” Barber said. “He has been helping us remotely to keep us working. It was almost like we didn’t miss a beat.”
Barber said Lyon is already addressing topics pressing to Morgan including moving an Interstate 84 interchange near Trappers Loop in Mountain Green up UDOT’s priority list, as well as planning a Mountain Green city center.
“I haven’t had a day that I haven’t been busy” since starting almost a month ago, Lyon said.