SALT LAKE CITY — Chris Roybal, former senior advisor for economic development for Gov. Jon Huntsman, will lead the new regional economic development body created to spur growth in Weber and Davis counties.
Officials from the two counties and the Economic Development Corp. of Utah, which Roybal used to head, announced Wednesday that he’ll serve as executive director of the new body, which has yet to be named. “I’ve been involved in recruiting hundreds of companies to the state of Utah, helping hundreds more with expansion and retention, so I’m very familiar with that,” he said.
He lauded the attributes of the area, notably the labor pool, and expressed confidence in the area’s ability to draw in new business.
“This northern Utah area in terms of its regional impact is very significant. I mean, we’ve got a population base of over 600,000 people. This is a very impressive labor pool for companies that are growing and expanding,” he said. Workers here are “younger, they’re smarter, they’re more educated and they’re more productive.”
He also noted the existing employers and business assets in the two-county zone, including Hill Air Force Base, the Business Depot Ogden industrial park and the Freeport Center in Clearfield. “My point is, we’ve got a great product to sell,” he said.
County commissioners in Weber and Davis counties approved a three-year agreement last week creating the new two-county economic development body, tasked with drawing in new businesses and encouraging existing ones to expand. The leaders had been working on the plans since 2017 and EDC Utah, a private nonprofit organization that promotes economic development across Utah, was picked to help guide the process.
The selection of Roybal was announced at a press conference at EDC Utah headquarters in Salt Lake City. Leaders and economic development officials from Davis and Weber counties were on hand as well as EDC Utah representatives.
In creating a two-county group, Weber County Commissioner Gage Froerer emphasized what he sees as the limited import of “geographic, political boundaries” to businesses. They focus more on things like access to workers and available cultural and recreational offerings, key in drawing people and assuring a continued labor pool.
Similarly, Davis County Commissioner Bob Stevenson noted the lack of sparks as officials from the two counties created the framework for the new economic development group.
As negotiations unfolded, he said, “there wasn’t fighting, there was discussion. There wasn’t jealousy, there was understanding of how we can bring everyone together.” In fact, he’d like the group to expand at some point to perhaps include Box Elder, Morgan and/or Cache counties.
BRINGING IN HIGH-PAYING JOBS
Most recently, Roybal worked as a private consultant. From 2007 to 2017, he served as chief operating officer and president of Salt Lake City-based Northwest Research, a logistics and research firm serving the transportation services industry. In his 10 years with the firm, recently acquired by a Fortune 500 company, it grew from 150 to 400 employees, he said.
From 2005 to 2007, he served as senior advisor for economic development to Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman. From 1993 to 2004, he was president and chief executive officer of EDC Utah.
Among his chief goals as head of the new northern Utah economic development group, Roybal said, will be creating high-paying jobs and bolstering the existing clusters in the area, like the aerospace industry. More immediately, he’ll be helping come up with a name and a branding strategy for Northern Utah and taking inventory of the existing assets in the zone, including labor pool, infrastructure and available real estate.
The annual budget for the new entity, to be overseen by an 11-member council made of representatives from the two counties and the private sector, would total $410,000 in 2019 and grow to $450,000 in 2021. Each county would pitch in $150,000 per year with $100,000 more per year coming from the state of Utah. Salaries, $120,000 in 2019, would be the single biggest expense, according to the draft budget, and $50,000 per year is to go to EDC Utah per the three-year contract with the entity to guide development of the new group.
In his capacity, Roybal is an EDC Utah employee and he’ll work with the economic development officials in Weber and Davis counties as well as other EDC Utah staff. Whether the new two-county body has a separate office has yet to be determined, but Roybal said he’ll be “sort of mobile” between the two counties.
Utah’s economy is poised to grow in the years to come and officials have described the initiative as a means to increase prospects that economic expansion comes to Northern Utah.