Economic engineering in the New West

 

The other night, my local irrigation ditch company held a meeting at the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars). I sat down on folding chairs with about 50 of my neighbors to hear from our elected board about by-law changes and progress on a federally-funded project to put much of our unlined ditch -- hand dug by ranchers in the late 1800s -- into pipe.

As we sat next to each other, I was reminded again that civilization in the rural West is actually built through collaboration among neighbors, and, more often than not, the help of the government.

This belies the myth of the West as a harsh region tamed by rugged individuals, but it is true: Our widely scattered cities, ranches, mines and farms would not exist without the water, electricity, roads and other essentials provided by tax dollars and a remarkable degree of coordination among local, state and federal officials.

No state in the West embraces this reality more vigorously than Utah. As senior editor Jonathan Thompson reports, the Beehive State's unique history as the promised land of the Mormons set it on course for cooperative and proactive economic development more than a century ago, and it has stayed on this road ever since. In places like Provo and Ogden, local and state leaders, many of them members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, eagerly back projects that benefit society and stimulate growth, from taxpayer-funded mass transit to aggressive incentive packages to attract outside companies. The result is a vibrant, low-unemployment economy that has recovered more rapidly from the recession than most other Western states.

The irony is, of course, that Utah's progressive economic policies stand in stark contrast to its politics, which are the most Republican-dominated in the country and are fluent in anti-federal invectives. But, then again, the GOP's avowed adherence to the dog-eat-dog free market has always been a bit more complicated than it sounds. Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush # 1 supported stringent environmental laws and regulations that are anathema to today's rightward-tilting GOP. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a practicing Mormon, backs rollbacks of regulations and taxes, yet he governed a state -- Massachusetts -- renowned for its progressive social programs; he also managed the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, which pumped tens of millions of dollars in subsidized infrastructure development into Utah.

What should the rest of the West learn from Utah? At first blush, not much. The remarkable social, economic and political cohesion of the state's people allows its leaders to make decisions more easily -- some would argue too easily -- than elsewhere in our region. But, during an election season in which the government's role in the economy is getting beaten up daily, Utah is a good reminder that the private and public sectors have always needed each other to sustain communities in the West.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    San Juan Citizens Alliance, a leading grassroots conservation advocacy organization for over 30 years, seeks a passionate, dynamic, organized, and technology-savvy communications professional to help...
  • OPERATIONS AND FINANCE MANAGER
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a national grassroots organization led by women, seeks a resourceful, self-motivated, team player to serve as Operations and Finance Manager....
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    ORGANIZATIONAL BACKGROUND Colorado Canyons Association (CCA) fosters community stewardship, education and awareness of our National Conservation Lands with a focus on Dominguez-Escalante, Gunnison Gorge and...
  • WYOMING STATE DIRECTOR
    Save the World ... or at least a piece of it! Join The Nature Conservancy and make a tangible and lasting impact by creating a...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ADVOCACY NON-PROFIT NEAR YOSEMITE
    Demanding, but rewarding, advocacy work on forest, water, wildland, and wildlife issues. Applicants should have experience dealing with land management planning, public speaking, grassroots organizing,...
  • NEW AGRARIAN APPRENTICESHIP
    Quivira Coalition's 2020 New Agrarian Apprenticeships in Regenerative Ranching and Farming -Apprenticeships run 4/20 - 11/20 Applications accepted 10/15/19 - 12/1/19 NAP partners with skilled...
  • PHILANTHROPY DIRECTOR AT WILDERNESS WORKSHOP
    Wilderness Workshop seeks a full time Philanthropy Director to raise funds for our team. Learn more: www.wildernessworkshop.org
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT WITH WESTERN RESOURCE ADVOCATES
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks an enthusiastic and organized problem solver to join our growing team as an Executive Assistant. The Executive Assistant is instrumental...
  • WYOMING OUTDOOR COUNCIL
    Two positions: Development Director OR Development Writer, Communications Director. Full job descriptions at https://wyomingoutdoorcouncil.org/careers.
  • CONSERVATION PROJECT MANAGER
    Great Land Trust seeks to hire a Conservation Project Manager. Position is full-time, based in Anchorage, Alaska. First review of applications will be on October...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Eagle Valley Land Trust Executive Director Position Description Summary of Position: The Executive Director, working with and reporting to the Board of Directors, has overall...
  • FINANCE & LOGISTICS COORDINATOR
    The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded in 1928 as an independent nonprofit organization, is a biological field station located near Crested Butte, Colorado. Our primary...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    See Full Job Description
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position: Development Coordinator Responsible to: Executive Director Time Commitment: 15-20 hours per week, or as otherwise agreed upon General Description: The Development Coordinator assists the...
  • EDUCATION CENTER MANAGER
    Friends of Cedar Mesa seeks a full-time Education Manager for the Bears Ears Education Center to provide day to day operational and administrative oversight. See...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED SCP SOUTHWEST REGIONAL DIRECTOR
    Seeking to hire an experienced advocate/manager to oversee the organization's sportsmen/women-driven advocacy in Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Open until filled
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    for northern AZ collaborative conservation ranchlands group
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Partners are seeking an experienced and energetic Executive Director who is excited about the opportunity to lead our growing organization! A full description of the...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    High Country News Seeks an Executive Director to advance its mission, grow its audience and influence, and strategically and sustainably guide the organization through a...
  • 2 PROPERTIES ON THE WESTERN EDGE OF THE GILA WILDERNESS
    Organic farm, hot springs, San Francisco River runs through both. [email protected]