There has been a lot written in the last few weeks about the TRT reform that was implemented in 2021 and I would like to weigh in on the economic diversification aspect of this. Passed in 2021, HB247 allowed for 1/3rd of the economic development portion of TRT to be used to help diversify our extremely tourism-dependent economy, (roughly $1 million a year).
The legislation went into effect in mid-2021 and we began to set up our resources. Last year we kicked off by establishing our STAR business grant program to help a variety of small businesses locally. I was involved as a member of the 5 person grant selection committee and can attest to its honesty, thoughtfulness and integrity. We spent many hours of our own time and 2 days together studying the applicants and deliberating on the awardees and the amounts. Ultimately 37 local businesses were awarded about $1M with awards ranging from $1500 to $100,000. This is money that stays in the community and acts as a multiplier, helping non-tourism businesses grow and develop and enabling a segment of our economy to move away from tourism dominance.
Money from diversification was also used last year to help with grants to non-tourism-related businesses that were affected by the flood. We are only about one and a half years into this new paradigm and the diversification program has big plans if it is allowed to continue. We are using funds to support a small business resource development center at USU, there are also plans for a small business revolving loan fund and there have been and will continue to be resources allocated to affordable housing and childcare.
I have two daughters at Helen M. Knight Elementary School. Though tourism and hospitality have been good to me I want my kids to have every opportunity to work in a field that is satisfying and sustainable and often working tourism-based jobs are neither. Diversification is the best bet for our youth to discover local career options that give them the opportunity to grow and thrive while being able to stay in this beautiful part of the world that we call home.
Some argue that we should spend this money advertising for more tourism in the winter months. As someone who runs multiple businesses that depend 100% on tourism, I can honestly say that this view doesn’t hold water. Let’s face it, this isn’t Arizona, we have a real winter here, without a ski resort, and most people are not traveling this time of year. Kids are in school and most of our seasonal workers are back in college or working the resorts in Park City and Colorado. Diversification is really the only thing that will allow us to grow our economy in the winter months. Our tourism economy is healthy and growing, but we still have huge housing-based staffing shortages and our infrastructure is strained. I’m a big fan of sustainable, rather than unfettered, growth and this diversification helps get us there.
The law that allowed Grand County to create these diversification programs has a built-in sunset. We’ll have to prove that we’ve been successful in order to continue in this direction, but we need time, thus the 5 years originally. We’ve had a great start so why cut this off at the knees as we’re gaining momentum? It’s only going to hurt locals if this gets rolled back and very few will profit. Please let your state legislators know how you feel about this. Now is not the time to deviate from this promising start and put all of our eggs back into the one economic basket of tourism.
Jacques Hadler is a Grand County commissioner.