ASAP study identifies potential areas for economic development
by Jeff Richards
The Times-Independent
Jul 28, 2016 | 4509 views | 0 0 comments | 120 120 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Six months after a community-wide economic development survey was initiated in Grand County, some of its key findings were presented and discussed by local officials last week.

According to Moab’s Area Sector Analysis Process (ASAP) survey, which was facilitated by Utah State University, several potential target areas were identified as having strong support in the Moab area, including specialized design services, solar cells, shuttle transit, nutrition bar manufacturing and unspecified professional, scientific and technical services.

In addition, several economic areas were given “moderate” support by the survey’s focus groups, which met monthly over the six-month period as part of the ASAP process. Areas designated as having moderate support included machine shops (nut-and-bolt manufacturing), wholesale electronics (e-commerce), digital outdoor video, vegetable and melon farming, scheduled air transportation, and scientific research and development.

On Tuesday, July 19, at the USU–Moab campus, the findings were presented in the form of a 42-page summary of data and tables generated from an analytical tool called Targeted Economic Development Analysis Tool (TEDAT). The presentation was made by Don Albrecht, executive director of USU’s Western Rural Development Center, and Marion Bentley, director of the USU Extension Business and Economic Development Center. Bentley said that the Moab’s ASAP study was the second one ever undertaken by USU — the first was done in Wayne County.

Moab city and Grand County officials attended the meeting, along with representatives from USU–Moab, the Moab Area Chamber of Commerce, the Grand County Travel Council, and local businesses. Most of the participants had been involved with the study since it began in January and participated in the monthly meetings since then.

Bentley said that the overview document “provides a snapshot of what sectors have been driving the local economy,” but cautioned that more review is needed by the ASAP steering committee and the small-group teams.

The analysis lists more than 700 jobs and occupations, which are categorized using a standardized classification system and grouped into various sectors. Not surprisingly, many of Moab’s currently available jobs are related to travel and tourism. However, according to the study, several other emerging employment sectors also warrant attention, Bentley said.

Bentley said that if a community doesn’t have the resources required to support a given sector, it can look at that sector’s suppliers and customers to see if a need can be filled. Such connections are noted as backward and forward linkages in the TEDAT summary document.

Participants didn’t have time to fully debrief the TEDAT overview document at last week’s meeting, and the document itself was still in a draft form, with many of the tables not yet articulated with explanatory text.

“The ASAP steering committee is waiting for some clarifying information by email so that we can better understand the report; we ran out of time at the [July 19] meeting to fully discuss its implications,” said Grand County Council Administrator Ruth Dillon.

Nevertheless, several participants said they were hopeful that the ASAP process will provide much-needed direction for the community’s economic future.

“ASAP was just the beginning. Now we need to build on it and keep the momentum going over the long term,” said Moab City Council member Rani Derasary, who attended the July 19 debriefing along with Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson, who helped oversee and facilitate the ASAP process.

“It will take time to find fits for our community and to grow those businesses and industries we already have here that are interested in growth,” Derasary said.

The study data can also be used to help USU–Moab plan its course offerings, university officials said.

Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine said the process has been beneficial in “[helping] many of us think more holistically about what’s possible in the Moab area.”

“The ASAP exercise has been helpful in identifying industry sectors that are compatible with our area’s assets and desirable according to our residents’ visions for the community,” Levine said. “Compatible means industry needs match our area’s human, physical, and technological assets, and desirable means the industry profiles match the stated economic goals of the survey respondents and ASAP steering committee members.”

He said the ASAP process can help focus the community’s efforts to create a more diversified economy.

“Communities can’t go after anything and everything — they must be strategic in what they try to grow and/or attract, especially in an increasingly competitive global marketplace,” Levine said. “The industry sectors identified in ASAP will guide us in determining which industries to target for retention/expansion (industries that already exist in Moab) and recruitment (industries that are compatible and desirable but don’t already exist in Moab).”

According to ASAP committee members, among the next steps to be taken will be the creation of a regional economic development committee, which will be made up of officials from surrounding counties and cities, including Blanding, Green River and Monticello.

“The idea is to work together to improve everyone’s situation and economic outlook,” Derasary said, adding that some of the targeted industries might be a good fit in multiple communities, whereas others may fit better if located on the Interstate 70 transportation corridor, in a community such as Green River.

“We need to commit to keep moving this effort forward, work with the region, and dedicate time and manpower,” Derasary said.

The formation of the regional economic development committee, along with other aspects of the ASAP survey and its findings, are expected to be discussed during a special joint public meeting of the Moab City Council and the Grand County Council, scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on Friday, July 29 in the Moab City Hall’s council chambers.

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