Southwest Utah Wine Industry Ripe for Expansion

This week the Five County Association of Governments, working in partnership with the Utah State University Extension Agriculture Program, hosted a field tour of vineyards and wineries concentrated in Washington County. The winemaking industry holds tremendous potential for job creation, economic diversification, agritourism, and is a possible avenue for lucrative agriculture evolution in rural areas. This gathering was coordinated in the effort to foster greater regional collaboration and to promote creative solutions to any barriers the industry is having towards growth. Five County AOG is thrilled to assist and support the expansion of this vibrant industry cluster within the region.

Due to moderate high-desert temperatures, areas throughout Southwest Utah and Washington County are well suited for grape growing. Winter weather stops short of bitter freezing cold and summer temperatures rarely reach the 110’s. This is important since grapes for winemaking need the cool evening periods to develop proper acidity which improves flavor. Elevation across the area also falls between the 2500′-5000′ prime vineyard threshold. Grapes are more water efficient to grow and have a higher yield per acre than traditionally widely cultivated crops in Utah, such as alfalfa. Soils throughout the region are also rich in volcanic basalt, which aids in drainage and leads to a distinct “terroir”, or flavor unique to the environment. These factors combine to make Washington County a prime area for winemaking that rivals competitors across the West Coast.

Many are unaware of the rich winemaking history here in Southwest Utah. Throughout the late 1800’s, the pioneers ran widespread operations which produced thousands of gallons of wine. Grape cultivation was a lucrative cash crop for these settlers that when turned into wine, could be used as church tithing and sold to California or other markets on the West Coast. Several local vineyards thrived throughout this period, such as the Naegle Winery in Toquerville, now a carefully preserved historic site, and a large operation ran by Swiss settlers in Santa Clara. New Mormon stances outlawing the consumption of alcohol and the gradual decline in product quality culminated to usher in the industry’s plunge to near nonexistence around 1892. Even so, vines with roots traced back to the pioneer days can still be found standing today across Washington County.

A talented group of winemakers in Washington County have revived this rich history and stand today as a shining example for homegrown entrepreneurship. Throughout the day we experienced impressive operations from the Water Canyon Resort and Winery located against the backdrop of the red cliffs in Hildale, to Zion Vineyards in Leeds. The group enjoyed lunch and productive conversation at Chanela Vineyards nestled against Pine Valley Mountain with the day culminating at Bold and Delaney Winery in scenic Dammeron Valley. Our route followed the Utah Wine Trail, which has been organized by the group as an opportunity to increase agritourism in the region and widen their visibility. These winemakers have also organized and participated in the Utah Wine Festival, an annual statewide competition and celebration of the craft.

The success of these operations is in no way due to government intervention, but by hard work and perseverance. These winemakers have made tremendous headway and are preparing to expand their enterprises across the board. It is our goal to find creative solutions to the myriad of expansion barriers identified by growers and vintners in the region. The industry is experiencing a widespread labor shortage, as well as a lack of educational and technical training resources. There also continues to be difficulty in acquiring water rights or aligning prime locations for vineyard operations with existing water resources. The progress made by these talented vintners is a testament to the growing demand for local products as well as the resiliency of the winemaking industry in Southwest Utah. FCAOG is determined to partner with the diverse group of organizations represented at this gathering to find region-wide solutions and aid this burgeoning sectors continued expansion.

Thank you to the Utah State University Extension, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Utah Farm Bureau, Washington County, Dixie Conservation District, Washington City Economic Development, and the vintners of Southwest Utah for organizing and attending!

Renewable Energy in Beaver

On October 7th, FCAOG hosted a field tour of renewable energy developments and resources concentrated in Beaver County. FCAOG was thrilled to partner with the Congressional Western Caucus to host Congressmen Christ Stewart, Dan Newhouse, Markwayne Mullin, Representatives from the US Economic Development Administration, Utah Association of Counties, and the Six County Association of Governments to discuss development on public lands, tour renewable power generation facilities, and learn about current research endeavors with tremendous future potential.

Beaver County is home to a impressive concentration of renewable energy resources, with a prominent cluster located on the sprawling rangeland just outside Milford. Throughout the day we learned about the multiple wind, solar and geothermal energy production facilities and toured the Align Renewable Natural Gas facility. The Align RNG plant is a collaboration between Dominion Energy and Smithfield Farms which captures renewable natural gas (methane) from commercial hog operations for use in commercial power generation and consumer heating. This process offers a productive solution for greenhouse gases that would otherwise be released into the environment as a biproduct of hog farming. Align produces 236,000 dekatherms of RNG annually, which is enough to heat 3,000 homes and is equivalent to taking 23,000 cars off the road.

During the mobile tour, Dr. Joseph Moore presented on the Utah Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE), a cutting edge field laboratory where researchers can test, develop, and enhance advanced geothermal systems. FORGE is a collaboration between researchers at the University of Utah and sponsorship by U.S. Department of Energy. investigations began in 2020 after initial project construction and will run through 2024. The project is poised to eventually become a privately operated facility, creating clean, efficient, and renewable power as well as an abundance of high paying jobs for the community.

FCAOG thanks the Congressional Western Caucus, and the Offices of Congressmen Stewart, Newhouse, and Mullin for coordinating the Beaver Energy Field Tour!

USU Extension Rural Online Initiative

Utah State University Extension recently received a $1.1 Million grant from the Economic Development Administration to support further development of the Rural Online Initiative program.

The Utah State University Rural Online Initiative Program provides rural communities with the resources, education, and training to maximize their workforce potential. First developed in 2018, the Rural Online Initiative began by offering a Master Remote Work Professional (MRWP) certificate and has since expanded to offer a Master Remote Work Leader (MRWL) certificate. Both the MRWP and MRWL programs are one-month certificate courses that teach participants the skills necessary to succeed in a remote work environment. The MRWL course, piloted in February 2020, provides training to organizational leaders on best practices and core skills needed when creating a remote work environment or leading a hybrid-remote staff.

Initially designed for businesses located along the Wasatch Front, both the Master Remote Work Professional and Model Remote Work Leader courses have seen tremendous success in the Southwest Region, specifically Beaver, Garfield, Iron and Washington Counties.

“In 2020, our remote work certification courses led to the creation of 167 new remote job placements in rural counties, which is equivalent to the economic impact of over 6,154 jobs in urban counties,” Said USU Extension Vice President Ken White in an EDA Press Release. The ROI Program has provided job placement for 55 individuals within the Southwest Region alone, spurring a tremendous impact in these low population rural areas. This job growth is equivalent to the economic impact of 1,465 jobs in urban counties.

The ROI Program proved to be particularly timely during the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic in early 2020. Paul Hill, ROI Program Director and Extension Professor explained how the ROI Program will help support businesses and local leaders in the post-pandemic workforce landscape. “Our research found that most U.S. organizations that implemented remote work in response to the pandemic considered the experience favorable,” Hill said. “We know from theory that a positive experience with an innovation on a trial basis increases the likelihood of adoption in the future. Ultimately, remote work reached a tipping point during COVID-19 and is here to stay. This means that businesses are evolving from being designed for the collective to being personalized to every individual. This specialized training program will coach business leaders through effectively developing remote work plans for their organizations so they can thrive in the future of work.”

View the full EDA press release HERE and visit USU Extension Rural Online Initiative to learn more about the future of work

Ultimately, remote work reached a tipping point during COVID-19 and is here to stay. This means that businesses are evolving from being designed for the collective, to being personalized to every individual

Paul Hill
Rural Online Initiative Program Director and Extension Professor

View the short documentary “Empowering Rural Utah Through Remote Work”

Entrepreneurship in Southwest Utah

A recent study conducted in 2020 by research group Science 24 Seven analyzes the thriving entrepreneurship community in Southwest Utah. The study ‘Fueling Economic Growth Through Entrepreneurship’ provides an initial assessment of the regions current entrepreneurial ecosystem and makes several data-driven recommendations for future expansion. Using the framework of an economic SWOT analysis at the baseline, the researchers then conducted an industry sector analysis in relation to similar regions in other states. By comparing the economic landscape of our region to similar regions across the country, they narrowed in on the areas in which entrepreneurs in Southwest Utah may have a comparative advantage.

Read the full report here or click the image below

1st Annual UZONA Chamber Business Expo and Career Fair in Hildale

On April 30th, the UZONA Chamber of Commerce will host its 1st Annual Business Expo and Career Fair in Hildale, Utah. The UZONA Chamber serves the business communities of Apple Valley and Hildale in Utah, as well as Colorado City, Cane Beds, Centennial Park, and the Kaibab Paiute Reservation in Arizona.

Hildale is located in the southeastern corner of the Five County region, while Colorado City lays in Northern Arizona’s Mohave County. The sister cities of Hildale and Colorado City share a unique business environment situated within an area known as the Short Creek Valley. These two intertwined communities are home to burgeoning retail, financial services, and manufacturing sectors, which are only separated by the Utah-Arizona State line.

The opportunity to live and work within these diverse communities has never been greater, with large manufacturing operations and several new financial services firms seeking to hire hundreds of new employees. Communities on both sides of the state line have also grown to be more business friendly and pro-development. Recently, the successful grand opening of Bee’s Marketplace, a large grocery store and dining establishment in Colorado City, has demonstrated the tremendous potential and willingness of the region to not only support new enterprise, but encourage it to thrive.

The Five County Association of Governments truly believes that as a region, together we prosper. By encouraging cooperation between different communities and promoting interstate commerce, we can foster a more resilient economic landscape in the Southwest.

For more information and to register for the 2021 Business Expo and Career Fair as a vendor or attendant visit uzonachamber.org

and connect with the UZONA Chamber of Commerce