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2020 Canyonlands Business Summit

On Monday February 10th stakeholders and business leaders from Southeast Utah converged on the Hoodoo Moab, Curio Collection by Hilton for the 2020 Canyonlands Business Summit. Utah’s 3rd District Congressman John Curtis carved out a piece of his very busy schedule to welcome attendees with a few minutes reminiscing about the trials and tribulations of  being a business owner in Utah then a locally elected official. Congressman Curtis kept the room’s attention telling tales of life in the trenches on both sides of the equation. The Congressman put a human face on the problems many in the room have come up against. His unique position of business owner trying to deal with zoning and regulation and then later being on the other side of the battle as the Mayor of Provo gave attendees a perspective few could have offered. 


Grand County Community and Economic Development Director Zacharia Levine  summed up the State of the Local Economy, citing numbers and statistics for Grand and San Juan County. Levine then turned the floor over to Utah Lt Governor Spencer Cox who also related his experience in business and government. 


Lt Governor Cox grew up in Fairview Utah and is a graduate of Washington and Lee School of Law. Well into a career in law the Lt Governor was asked to come home and help run the family business, a phone company his family had owned since 1919. It has since grown from a small local telephone exchange into CentraCom, a provider covering one sixth of the state of Utah and extending from Idaho to Nevada. Not just a phone company anymore the company now provides cable TV service and an extensive fiber optic network to its customers. LG Cox served in local government as a city council member and later a county commissioner in Sanpete County and in the Utah House of Representatives.  


The Lt Governor touted growth in Utah of 36%, making the state number one in private sector job growth in the nation. His pitch was well received by most of the room. A plug for less regulation being the spark for economic development just before he opened the forum up to questions from the audience which opened the door for one audience member to point out that a good number of people in the area are involved in and make their livings from the regulation of industries taking advantage of the natural resources in the State of Utah. The LG stuck to his guns and stated the need to fast track expansion of existing industries in the state and area. 


Next up for attendees was a panel discussion of managing growth given by retired Breckenridge CO town manager Tim Gagen, Jackson WY Town Councilman Johnathan Schechter and Telluride CO  Mayor pro tempore Todd Brown. The session was titled “What We Wish We Knew” and the panel members dispensed sage wisdom to those in the audience who are looking for ways to develop their visitor economy based cities responsibly. The cat may appear to be out of the bag for Moab but there is still plenty that can be done to expand responsibly and we in San Juan County were taking note of the missteps and fashioning our plan to include ways to avoid making those same miscues. 


That was it for those who govern and their time in the spotlight. The stage was now the domain of Ernie Harker, the man who rebranded Maverik gas stations and convenience stores. Harker gets the credit for moving the stores from a Cracker Barrel vibe to one of hanging with the adventure crowd and grabbing some snacks before you jump off Fischer Tower in your wingsuit. Ok that was a little over the top, but not far from his do or die identified target customer.  Ern Bern as he goes by now, gave a pretty good presentation on rebranding, even bringing Chuck Norris into the discussion. Seems another of Ern’s success stories involves helping get word out on C Force, a bottled water brand owned by the action film star’s wife and bottled on his Texas Ranch.


USU Vice Provost Rich Etchberger was next with an update on success stories and plans for USU Moab and their role in expanding education with the institution to offer certifications and motivation for working online in rural Utah. The Vice Provost had to compete with lunch for the attention of the crowd during much of his update. He did an admirable job and so did the cook on my chicken entree. 


Throughout the summit there were representatives with information in the lobby of the conference center speaking and handing out literature to attendees on the numerous resources available. The spectrum of participants included GOED, USU and others providing resources ranging in scope from funding to technical assistance. 


Break Out Sessions (which are code words for sliding the airwall into place and splitting the group in two) were next. I opted into the one called Scrappy Marketing and Influencers given by two members of Relic, an ad agency specializing in destination marketing. Adam Stoker the President and CEO of Relic described the agencies history and philosophy and then turned the floor over to one of the more interesting speakers of the summit Jess Darrington. 


Jess is a social media manager and influencer. She is also Relic’s best foot forward in that department. She clarified the murky waters of social media and influencers...for instance, targeting your market with a social influencer that isn’t a household name might be a better return on investment than a celebrity with thousands of times more followers. If those followers are inclined to watch the Kardashians it’s not likely they will have the want or desire to come hike out to a petroglyph panel and miss the drama of Kim brought near tears during the pain of a fish pedicure...Maybe Kim’s not the influencer for you.  Jess also revealed some tips to track your results and those of your competitors on social media with some little known functions of the social media sites. Jess suggests you bring Pintrest into the mix if you are trying to influence people to your brand. The platform she feels is completely underutilized by business.  


Simultaneously on the other side of the airwall Brendan Cameron Moab Chamber of Commerce President and manager of City Market in Moab was heading up the breakout session on Executive Leadership and Management. 


Airwall still in place, the final break out event of the day for San Juan County’s Economic Development representatives was the Rural Remote Work Panel featuring Emily Campbell of InVision a design company, Clint Betts of Silicon Slopes, and Jordan Leonard USU Rural Online Initiative. This breakout session was all about working online remotely from home and the incentives available to companies that are able to hire workers in rural Utah. This is a growing market that could swell employment numbers in rural parts of the state when the need for a brick and mortar operation can be replaced by those working from home. 


While that session was going on another was taking place titled What Growing Nonprofits Need to Know. Rob Harter, the Executive Director of Christian Center of Park City shared his knowledge of community focused non profit organizations with those attendees.


The event was well attended and full of useful information. Zacharia Levine pulled together an impressive event. Others credited with organizing the event include Natalie Randall of San Juan County Economic Development and Visitor Services; Pratt Redd, Blanding City; Laici Shumway, Moab Chamber; Beth McCue, Moab SBDC & Business Resource Center; and USU Moab. Sponsorships include Desert Rivers Credit Union, The San Juan Record and Emery Telcom. 


For the next two weeks all presentations have been shared on this google drive folder.



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