Part IV: Customer Service Symposium
At the recent customer service symposium Betty Stanton, spoke to the audience. She has a lot of experience in building a community. She is from Moab. She was a grant specialist with roots in the Moab area and she moved back to Moab just as the bottom dropped out of the uranium boom. She started her own business doing letters and books for people who couldn't afford a full time employee. She worked for economic development when they had no offices and no employees. She applied for Community Development Block Grant money and got a grant for central services. The grant was based on a five year economic recovery plan and five offices were combined. Stanton started working for the five offices at $5 an hour. "Each town is unique. You need citizen involvement, keep the citizens involved. It has to come from the grass roots, if you're going to get the support you need in the long run," said Stanton.
Moab has had a boom and bust cycle, the town was at a real low when the bottom dropped out of uranium. Mining had brought in one of the highest per capita incomes. At the time of the bust, Moab lost 20 percent of the population. "We lost our youth. One of the problems in Moab is 95 percent of the land is federal and only 5 percent private. The government supplied several stable base government jobs. One strategy we used to implement new ventures was, you can't put all your eggs in one basket like we did with the mining.
"People thought it was going to turn into a ghost town. Right off the bat we thought that we could tap into our beautiful scenery. We had meetings; all the time, everyone participated because we were desperate. We had a little river running; someone brought out the fact that one of our river runner company's said one of our big problems was nobody knew what a Moab was. They knew more about it in Europe. Emery County has some good drawing points. Take advantage of everything close; sister trade; conventions, events; anything," said Stanton.
Stanton said in the decade after the uranium bust they began catering to the film industry. The film industry brought in money $42 million for the community. Jobs were created across the board immediately. The film industry brought people into the rooms. They loved the scenery. Moab needed an icon, so they selected Delicate Arch; there was a need to attract attention to the area. Someone jumped to their feet in a meeting and announced they should have a most scenic dump contest, they declared that Moab had the most scenic dump in the world, media came from everywhere. Everyone was encouraged to enter the most scenic dump contest. In the end it was determined that Kodiak, Alaska had the most scenic dump with Moab second. Charles Kuralt even came and did a special. "You haven't lived until you've seen the moon rise over the Moab city dump."
"During the next two or three years calls came in from people wanting to see the famous dump. Delicate Arch was placed on the Utah license plate. We slowly began drawing attention to our area. Having been a grant specialist, one thing we needed to do was bring life back into the town; we began applying for grants; this created a little bit of resentment. Certain pots of money could only be dedicated to certain purposes. We started thinking big. We built an 18 hole golf course and an equestrian center for race meets and rodeos. One problem with tourism is it's seasonal. If you are going to build new motels you have to keep them full.
We put in curb and gutter and hospital improvements; we got an agricultural grant to put in vineyards. The vineyards attracted wineries. Moab has more religious denominations than any other town. We targeted some industries we would go after, The environmentalists didn't want to harm the environment. To further our recruitment of film industry we built a western town. We had the stuntman hall of fame; a film museum; light manufacturing and cottage industry; retirement; retirement was good; people who settled there were once a visitor there. At one time we wanted a college or branch university, we worked with the University of Utah to get it but it fell through. We looked at oil and gas exploration. We have had support for the continuation of local livestock businesses, they have kept a solid base. Some of our success stories with tourism have been, build it and they will come; and they did. We built seven new motels and at the same time we had a horizontal oil rig testing on Big Flat; at that particular time; radical environmentalists were giving them a bad time. But that one test drill brought in more revenue than all the motels combined," said Stanton.
"You need to keep a balance between the environment and economics," said Stanton. The film industry committee at one time was handling the four county area; during that time they brought a couple of movies into Carbon County and Green River. Carbon and Emery decided to do their own thing and broke away from the organization. Green River gets Moab overflow. They are still building motels in Moab," said Stanton.
Stanton said they have some light manufacturing in Moab, they have a sunglass company. A company that makes arthritis medicine and two wineries. Cottage industries also exist with a lot of artists and retirees; Moab also attracts the radical environmentalists. Some jobs are being created with the recovery of the uranium tailings.
Some uranium exploration is returning to Moab. One big asset of the mining and milling and oil and gas exploration is they improve the roads. "We are grateful that seismic groups are building roads. The environmentalists don't take into consideration seniors would like to explore these areas too. With livestock and agriculture there's not much left, the environmentalists have pushed them out and some have sold out to the nature conservancy," said Stanton.
Stanton urged caution as you deal with making a recovery. A lot of the Mom and Pop shops became tourism gift shops. If we lost tourism, Moab would see a greater disaster now than when we lost mining. In our original plans we didn't want buildings that were more than two stories high so as not to obscure the views around the city. But we now have several three stories.
Stanton said, "The younger generation needs to get involved. They need to remain alert and be taught what to watch for. Stanton has done research on trends and tried to keep track of the target tourist industry. She had to go in and weed out information, they had things grouped together that weren't related; the average person looking, because of the categories, would think we are all right; but the complexion is different now; we need to alert everyone that we could be headed for a fall off the cliff.
"One of the big failures was not educating the younger generation on what to look out for; they have had it good. We need to educate people, with the onslaught of the environmentalists they got in strategic positions and did away with all the community boards; they did away with the party political system. In Grand County today you don't have anyone to go to. These are things that can happen if you aren't careful; generate and maintain community involvement, implement an annual review; maintain your political system; study resources; maintain economic diversity; review and make changes; protect the environment, but work for balance.
"Insist that any possible development include affordable housing; now in Moab we can't recruit teachers, they can't afford the housing. You need to get affordable housing; for the seniors now on fixed incomes they can't keep up with it," stated Stanton.
Stanton said one of the things they did to stimulate public events was the jeep safari. To stimulate these events involved a lot of community input. Moab developed special events; the friendship cruise, marathon, etc. The jeep safari is in its 30th year. "We are fighting with the environmentalists to keep the jeep safari going. The clubs in Moab go out and keep the trails clean. They organize the tours and thousands of people come in. We have biking, rock climbing, base jumping, jeeps, river rafting, kayaking, etc. We have a Canyonlands by night light show. History is big drawing point; all of these activities keep us very full with very little down time. We are busy with a big foreign trade. You have to develop your icon and something to bring attention to you.
"It takes a lot of work to keep it going. You need to have a board, community effort and volunteerism. You need community backing," said Stanton.
Lou Sansevero, economic development council chairman said, "Moab created tourism as a gateway industry. Emery County is going to have tourists and whether we cash in on that is up to us."