CACHE COUNTY – Members of the Cache County Council voted unanimously May 26 to create an economic development advisory board as the first step toward cashing in on a new state grant program for rural counties.
That action guarantees that Cache County will receive a $200,000 state grant in the fiscal year beginning July 1 and will also be eligible to compete for additional grants in the future.
The state’s Rural County Grant Program was established by the passage of Senate Bill 95 during the 2020 General Session of the Legislature. That measure – sponsored by Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton – was intended to address a widening gulf in commercial growth between Utah’s rural and metropolitan areas.
“We have a tale of two economies in this state,” Sandall told his legislative colleagues. “We have the Wasatch Front and we have rural Utah.”
To begin adjusting the balance of Utah’s economic development, Senate Bill 95 created a pair of taxpayer-supported grant programs for the state’s rural counties, totaling $10 million each year. Each of Utah’s 24 counties would receive at least $200,000, with the option to compete for up to $1 million that would go toward locally developed projects.
Funding for the Rural County Grant Program is being reallocated from the now-defunct Utah Science, Technology and Research Initiative (USTAR).
While urging the passage of Senate Bill 95, Sandall argued that the new grant initiative would succeed where other rural investment programs failed because it empowers county governments to direct the use of funds toward their particular needs.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Greg Hughes has echoed Sandall’s concerns in his campaign speeches, urging that state dollars can be more profitably spent in developing business opportunities in the state’s 24 rural counties.
There have also been hints that Gov. Gary Herbert’s upcoming “Utah Leads Together 4.0” economic recovery plan will suggest that Utah use its AAA bond rating to create new economic opportunities in rural areas by funding infrastructure improvements.
Under the Rural County Grant Program, general need areas that grant funds can be directed to include business recruitment, development and expansion; workforce training and development; and, business infrastructure and capital facilities improvements.
The county’s next steps in the process of opting into the Rural County Grant Program will be organizing its Economic Development Advisory Board according to state guidelines and submitting an application for its initial $200,000 grant.
During discussion of the opportunity presented by the Rural County Grant Program, council member Gina H. Worthen noted that Cache County already has a working relationship with the Cache Valley Economic Development Alliance (CVEDA), which operates under the umbrella of the Cache Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Worthen suggested that unnecessary duplication of effort might be avoided if the mission and membership of the executive board of CVEDA could be amended to meet the state’s requirements for the new Cache County Economic Development Advisory Board.