All seven members of the Morgan County Council were able to attend a rare meeting with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert Jan. 2 to discuss rural economic development priorities.
“It is a tremendous opportunity to sit with the governor. He manages the state very well and is concerned with the health of rural counties. It went very well,” Councilman John Barber said. “The governor listened intently and was positive about where Morgan County is in relationship to rural counties.”
Attending were The Morgan County Council; Linda Gillmor, director for the Office of Rural Development for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED); Carlos Braceras, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) director; Ginger Chinn, managing director of business services for GOED; representatives from the World Trade Center Utah; the head of state parks; representatives of the Utah Department of Natural Resources; and the governor’s staff.
Because the council and county employees spent months “honing” a strategic plan passed by the council in February of 2016, Barber said “the council was very prepared. Talking with several senior officials from GOED after the meeting, the comments were how prepared we were.”
Barber said the governor commented on how Morgan is where people from the Wasatch Front are moving because of its way of life. “He was impressed with the work we have done in managing growth and with our efforts in the entire county in a number of areas.”
Among those were efforts to bring fiber high speed Internet to the entire county and economic development efforts with existing businesses, especially securing grants and participating in business education.
Councilwoman Tina Cannon said it can be difficult for rural counties to get transportation funding for projects like the Mountain Green interchange because UDOT currently funds project based on traffic counts alone.
“This current funding formula places rural Utah at a distinct disadvantage of road projects when compared to projects along the Wasatch Front,” she said. “Currently the Transportation Commission is allowed to consider additional criteria for projects including economic impact, recreation impacts, and congestion mitigation to designate funding for projects. This is crucial for Rural Utah, and the council encouraged the governor to continue to support the Transportation Commission’s ability to use this type of analysis.
“Currently, the legislature is working through a similar type of funding recommendation brought forward through the Transportation Governance and Funding Task Force (SB174),” Cannon continued. “We expressed our support for the recommendations of the Task Force and emphasized the impact on Rural Utah. Transportation infrastructure is so critical to the economics of Morgan County.”
The council also asked the governor to protect Morgan’s B&C road fund allocations.
Barber said the governor asked that state agencies reach out to Morgan County concerning broadband; infrastructure such as a full freeway interchange in Mountain Green; business expansion and retention funding; outdoor recreation and support for Weber River usage; and the rural planning organization with upper Ogden Valley, a joint effort between Weber and Morgan counties to address transportation needs with the Wasatch Front Regional Council and UDOT.
“I think we have great direction for the people of the entire county,” Barber said. “We are in a good place right now and need to continue the efforts to be good neighbors with the surrounding counties.”