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
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • CARPENTER RANCH MANAGER
    Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.