OGDEN — With leaders from Weber and Davis counties now formally moving forward with creation of a joint entity meant to spur business growth, Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey is bullish about the future.
Very, very bullish.
"We're in a really good position, probably better than we've ever been since the Transcontinental Railroad as far as bringing business here. I'm really, really excited," he said Tuesday.
Whether the future is so rosy remains to be seen, but officials from both counties waxed optimistic after approving plans Tuesday to create a regional economic development organization tasked with promoting northern Utah, encouraging business expansion and creating jobs. The Economic Development Corp. of Utah will spearhead creation of the two-county entity, yet to be named, and to be funded, initially, mainly by a mix of county and state funds.
"It's going to benefit both of us economically and that's the key thing," said Bob Stevenson, a Davis County commissioner.
Whether the hoped-for growth occurs in Weber County or Davis County is almost secondary, he maintains, because the two counties are so interconnected. Some live in Davis County but work in Weber County and vice versa, while residents from each county go back and forth to dine, shop and more.
"What benefits Davis County also benefits Weber County and vice versa," Stevenson said.
Michael Flynn, the EDC Utah chief operating officer, said additional tax revenue brought on by growth and development "is the goal of this thing." The two-county economic development body may be unique to Utah, but regional entities aren't that uncommon elsewhere, he said, noting other examples in the Boise, Idaho; Denver, Colorado; and Phoenix, Arizona, areas.
EDC Utah, a private, non-profit entity that promotes economic growth statewide, won the three-year contract in a competitive bid to get the planned body off the ground. It's to get a $50,000 fee for each year it helps run the group.
Flynn said they have a candidate to handle day-to-day operations of the new entity in mind. It would be overseen by an 11-member body made up of four public officials and six business leaders appointed by officials from Weber and Davis counties as well as a member of the EDC Utah management team.
The vision underlying creation of the new entity, encouraging growth, luring new businesses and creating jobs, is "spot on," said Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer. "As you know, when I came on board, I was very vocal, saying it's time that Weber County and Northern Utah get our share of quality growth up here, which includes jobs, companies coming up here."
Weber County leaders have sometimes eyed rapid growth and development in Utah County with a measure of envy. Stevenson, though, said it's not about showing up the state's larger counties. It's about better positioning and preparing Davis and Weber counties to lure businesses to the northern end of the state as Utah's economy grows.
Among the initial goals spelled out in the agreement between the two counties and EDC Utah are moves toward branding the northern Utah region for marketing. "That's how you start to build connections between the region and the assets that are in it," Flynn said.
Other goals for the entity's first two years include creation of a vision to guide the 11-member governing body, called the Northern Utah Economic Coordinating Council, and crafting of "rules of engagement" for the organization, including guidelines in responding to business opportunities. Within three years, the goals include creation of a mega site, a massive industrial park, and expansion of marketing efforts across the country.
The proposed budget for 2019 is $410,000 and that goes up to $430,000 for 2020. Davis and Weber counties would each pitch in $150,000 per year while the state would pitch in another $100,000 per year.