Development council continues push to strengthen county's economy
The Emery County Economic Development Council has been working on a number of ideas to further the economy in Emery County. The council chairman, Mike McCandless talked about these developments, "A year ago in May we were designated as a Smart Site. Emery and Carbon counties as well as Emery Telcom worked to submit applications for a Smart Site to the state. They received 150 applications and of those nine communities were selected and Emery and Carbon counties were among the nine. One of the reasons Emery and Carbon counties were selected was because of the access to high speed communications and DSL which all influenced the decision. The initial plan was to have the Smart Site in the incubator building donated to the county by Utah Power, but the condition of the building and other factors led to housing the Smart Site in the old Emery Telephone building in Orangeville. The call center is located there. The focus now by Governor Mike Leavitt is to outsource work to the Smart Sites. Since January the state has looked for work to outsource to these sites. The governor's 1,000 day economic plan adds emphasis in these areas.
"He has added tools and resources to develop these opportunities. One such opportunity that Emery County has been working on is 8-A status. This would give the county the ability to receive preferences on federal contracts. The county could receive bidding preferences. If a federal job is under $3.5 million then they don't have to put it up for bid, but can just award the contract. Under the Smart Utah project the state would identify five locations to receive 8-A status and Emery and Carbon counties have been selected for this. A new limited liability company will be created under the economic development council that will partner with companies to seek these contracts. We are patterning this for profit subsidiary after the Ute Tribe in the Uintah Basin. In two years they have gone from zero jobs to 100. These are federal jobs with benefits and good pay.
"We could partner with a company like Health Axis and Emery Telcom to help do the work, but the primary owner would be under the economic development council. Other companies in the area, could play a role as well. Right now we are focusing on completing the paperwork. There are a stack of papers to be completed in this government process. After they are completed they will go to Salt Lake to the Small Business Administration for an initial review of the five sites. The USDA, rural utilities service and a lot of other government entities are involved. This paperwork process will take six months. Sanpete County is farthest along in the process. They have already sent in their paperwork. Emery and Carbon counties are in the same place working on the applications. This is a good opportunity for the county, there is a lot of work taking place and a lot of hoops to jump through but it will be good for the county.
"We are trying to duplicate what has happened in the Uintah Basin. This high-tech work pays $9-10 an hour and is good employment. The people are trained on computers and a lot more. The skills they are learning could help them to start their own businesses. They have a contract where they scan blue prints for Hill Air Force Base. They have one large building they are compacted in, when we visited there they even had computers in the break room because they are so busy and their building is filled to capacity.
The federal government spends $60 billion a year on computer related contracts. Twenty percent of that to be done out of house is the goal of the federal government which is a significant amount of work. Five percent of the contracts are currently going to 8-A companies and there is a lot of room for growth. This could bring $3 billion to 8-A companies. We are just going phase by phase. Everything is determined by the contracts you get. We would love to get three or four medium sized contracts, you are better off doing that than winning one big contract.
"The economic development council is also working on other opportunities. Health infomatics is what the officials at the state office call it, this is an opportunity to bring health care service jobs to rural Utah. Medical coding is one procedure that can be performed from these sites. Medical coders assign codes to the work that a doctor has performed. These assigned codes are then used in insurance billings. The governor wants to outsource contracts of this sort and is contributing funds to train people to become certified coders. It is a really complex industry. We are trying to create opportunities for scholarships and are working on acquiring scholarships for training of this type. We might develop our own training or work with the applied technology college in the area. You can't get contracts unless you have trained people and it takes three to six months to train in this area. After the training there are two certified organizations that certify the workers. Hospitals want experienced coders, there is also a possibility of job shadowing already trained coders.
"Health Axis which operates now in our county is performing related work. They take paper forms and turn them into electronic documents. Coding is another step in this series of medical payments. We are focusing on what we think Emery County can do and working to get our own group of coders trained. We are just starting through the process and hope to turn it into something.
"One other designation that Emery County could take advantage of is the HUB zone. This stands for historical under utilized business zone. If workers in a HUB zone qualify, they can receive a 10 percent bidding advantage. The county qualifies and individual businesses can get themselves qualified. This is not just for technical jobs, but for other fields as well. As long as the workers live in the HUB zone then they can qualify for those designations.
Vernon Childs is also developing a software company and has been granted a loan from the Smart Sites. They will be setting up in the Orangeville call center. There is a room available for them and the Smart Site donated desks and chairs to them for start-up.
"We are focusing on our future and not giving up. The economic development council operates the revolving loan fund which helps people to start businesses or to expand an existing business. These loans are anywhere from $2,000 - 40,000. We have had good success with this fund and it has helped a lot of businesses in the county. It is easier to get a loan through the council and then sometimes they use it as a matching loan to secure a bigger loan through a bank or other lending institution. Usually they use the council loans to purchase property to start a business. The revolving loan fund creates interest as they pay the loan back and the money just recycles through the communities. We have between $300,000-400,000 in this loan fund. We like to keep as much of this out as we can. We want people to know about this fund and to take advantage of it. The loan applications are available at the economic development office from Marlin Eldred who is the Emery County Economic Development Director. The loan applications are reviewed by a loan review committee. There are a lot of people on this committee who bring a wide variety of opinions, ideas and expertise to the loan granting process. They are all interested in promoting the county. The hard part about economic development is that you often don't see results until down the road a long way even five to 10 years. You will never see results unless someone steps in to make things happen and try new things.
"Our economic council works hard and we have good participation, The board members are all volunteers and you need people to make it happen and you have to start somewhere," said McCandless.