HB247 accomplished two main objectives: the first is to provide more funding for essential services and infrastructure, and the second is to provide funding for an economic diversification program. Grand County has certainly used the funding to accomplish both objectives.

When the legislative audit of Grand County was initiated, there was no mention at all of the diversification program as rationale. And, in fact, the auditors have come and gone without ever asking a single question of anyone regarding the diversification program. Perhaps this will be a follow-up investigation? Regardless, I have no problem with an audit of this program. I am fully confident of its integrity.

The County’s STAR grant program, which seems to be the center of this very ambiguous insinuation of wrongdoing, is essentially an extension of the State’s rural county grant program. There are a multitude of checks and balances instituted, and anyone who is interested in researching the grant program for themselves may visit the below link. Every single detail about the grant program is publicly available at http://grandcountyutah.net/grants

The design of the grant program was in coordination with the County’s economic development committees, which includes a very broad range of membership. The grant program was the result of public workshops and seminars. A handbook for the grant was designed and provided to an evaluation committee who then scored the applications according to the handbook and scoring criteria. The membership of the evaluation committee included; a county commissioner, a Moab City representative, a representative from the economic development corporation of Utah, a representative of the nonprofit sector, and a business representative from the Chamber of Commerce.

The diversification program has just barely begun. We led out with the grant program for a couple reasons; we were already familiar with and set up to administer the State Rural County Grant program, and so expanding that programming was the fastest way to get the diversification program off the ground. HB247 also restricted our ability to hold TRT revenue in balance, so we had to come up with programming that could be initiated relatively quickly as we couldn’t hang on to the money.

However, the grant program is just a stepping stone to more effective economic development programming. Should the diversification program survive this legislative session we will be working with the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments to replace the grant program with a revolving loan fund. We also signed an agreement with USU and SBDC Utah to establish a local small business resource development center at the USU campus. We have plans to offer free business planning and administration classes. And, we plan to continue to target weak links in our economy and to assist with business space, affordable housing, day care, and other areas needing improvement. Should this part of HB247 be repealed, none of the above will be possible.

Economic diversification is a vital need in Grand County. I hope that those who have concerns with the program choose to engage in a constructive manner, rather than to throw the whole program out based on nebulous accusations of….I don’t know what? No program is going to be perfect when it first starts. A lot of the programming we want to initiate is complex and takes time to put together. This program has only been operating for 1.5 years. I hope that this community can support the program, as the alternative is that this money ends up being spent out-of-state, and not directly to support our own local businesses.

Chris Baird 

Chris Baird is the Grand County Strategic Development Director.