BRIGHAM CITY — Cuts in aerospace and manufacturing have cost Brigham City and its neighbors more than tax dollars. The highest cost has been in people and their families, as thousands have been forced by layoffs and reductions to find jobs outside the rural county.
Even in Utah, a state where the uemployment rate has been edging down — it’s now at 6 percent statewide — Box Elder County continues to lose jobs. The most recent figures show the county’s unemployment rate at 7.2 percent.
This jobs crisis has prompted an “aggressive” $100,000 initiative to bring jobs to Box Elder County, focusing on promoting its uniquely and highly skilled workforce. Brigham City Mayor Dennis Fife, who is himself a former chemist and analyst with ATK Space Systems, on Tuesday announced the effort that pulls funding from private companies, such as ATK, and government grants.
“I applaud their aggressive approach, saying, ‘We’re going to take control of this and make things happen’,” said Matthew Godfrey, CEO of Better Cities, a firm hired to analyze job opportunities and business growth in Box Elder.
The news last Friday that NASA has bypassed ATK, the county’s largest employer, in funding to develop a new commercial space launch system to transport astronauts into space, just confirms how important the new effort is, Godfrey said.
“I think it speaks to the need for this very thing,” said Godfrey, a former mayor of Ogden. “That’s going to continue to happen in today’s environment. That’s why I think communities need to be very proactive — and aggressive — in growing jobs in those industries and recruiting more industries.”
The initiative announced Tuesday will bring business and community groups together to target industry clusters — groups of related businesses in specific industries whose collective experience and collaboration can provide a competitive business edge. A cluster would include all the supporting entities, such as suppliers and service providers.
Statewide, Utah’s government has identified seven clusters: aviation and aerospace, defense and Homeland Security, energy and natural resources, financial services, life sciences, outdoor products and software development/information technology.
The nine-month project will analyze local workforce dynamics and entrepreneurial opportunities, as well as formulate a job-creation strategy and action plan, Fife said.
The first efforts will go toward identifying what Box Elder is “really strong in,” said Godfrey. “Manufacturing is an area in which they’ve been strong. But we’re going to dive even deeper and say, ‘What kind of manufacturing should be performed?’
“We’ll target a specific industry we want to go after, based on human capital,” he added. “There may be workers laid off from ATK that would be perfect for some ABC company that we can recruit or an existing company that we can grow.”
Box Elder has suffered in recent years with massive layoffs at such large employers as ATK and Autoliv and the closing of the La-Z-Boy plant in Tremonton. In the last year alone, Box Elder has lost nearly 1,000 manufacturing jobs and about 300 public-sector jobs, according to Utah’s Workforce Research and Analysis Division.
“We have great people here,” Fife said. “We want to do what we can to help create an environment where businesses can thrive and our residents can find good jobs to support their families.”
The $100,000 public-private partnership will be funded in part by a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and a $10,000 contribution by ATK. Other contributors include the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, Wells Fargo, JP Morgan Chase, Members First Credit Union, Bank of Utah, America First Credit Union, and the Brigham City Redevelopment Agency.