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Box Elder County.


With roosters and rocket boosters, Box Elder County in northern Utah is a study in contrasts. As the state's third-largest county, Box Elder is well-known for its wonderful peaches and apples for which people have been known to drive several hundred miles. It is also the county in which two pivotal pioneering efforts took place less than 100 years and, ironically, just seven miles apart.

In 1869 (ten years after the area's first peach harvest), the driving of the Golden Spike in Promontory, 30 miles west of Brigham City, signified the completion of the nation's first transcontinental railroad. Less than 100 years later, in 1959, a first-stage Minuteman missile motor, the largest solid rocket motor then made, was test-fired seven miles east of that historic site by the Thiokol Chemical Co., as it was then known. That motor was the forerunner for the rocket boosters that today power the Trident and Peacekeeper missiles and NASA's space shuttles.

Yet Box Elder County in the 1990s is much more than the Golden Spike Monument, Thiokol Corp., and the famous Fruit Way. The county offers a casual lifestyle, a strong sense of community, and a firmly ingrained work ethic that have fashioned Box Elder County into an appealing place for families to live, work, and play. Additionally, plans for an increasingly diversified economic base, a steady job growth rate, and increased tourism dollars have also been penciled into that bright future by the countywide economic development task force recently formed to encourage and shape the county's growth.

"Our economic development task force has determined several targets for our efforts," said Robert Valentine, director of Box Elder County Economic Development. "We see real opportunities for high-tech, manufacturing, and other industries in Box Elder County."

Water, Transportation, and People

Valentine said the county offers a number of distinct advantages. For one, Box Elder has the lowest property tax in the state. "We have inexpensive land available and an abundant supply of the necessary services, such as gas, electric facilities, a fiber-optics (telephone) switching office, sewer lines, and water. In fact, we have a water conservancy district working on plans to develop adequate water supplies to take Box Elder County into the year 2015," said Valentine.

Also, Box Elder County lies less than an hour from the Salt Lake International Airport, and it has easy interstate access. Plus, the eastern part of the county is served by rail.

Historically, the Box Elder economy has maintained deep roots in the county's strong agricultural community. But there has been a decided shift in the economy during the past few years, said Tom Shaw, manager of the First Interstate Bank office in Brigham City. Today less than half of the population still relies on farming, ranching, and fruit growing for its livelihood. Increasingly, area farmers have taken on regular eight-to-five jobs and must confine their farming activities to the hours before and after work, according to Shaw. While the farmers may leave the field for the office or the factory, they still bring with them the strong work ethic that sustained the pioneers who settled the area in 1851.

"The people here have a higher work ethic than most," Shaw said. "They still put in a day's work for a day's pay. We're seeing more people working eight-to-five jobs, so there are not as many farming operations. With fewer farming operations, we have seen a change in emphasis in our business from commercial lending to consumer lending. Also, there are companies coming in that are headquartered elsewhere and do not require lending arrangements." Shaw said he is very pleased with the businesses located in Box Elder, saying the bank is healthy and strong. "It reflects the other financial institutions in the county."

Industrial Space

Shopko and K-Mart are two retailers, headquartered elsewhere, that recently opened stores in Box Elder County. Both are located in Brigham City on the site of the former Intermountain Intertribal School. That property, which includes more than one million square feet of industrial potential, was purchased from Brigham City several years ago by Lily Pond Inc., a New York partnership that specializes in converting properties to new uses. The former tribal school property, renamed Brigham Intermountain Properties, is managed by Gary Jones, the marketing director for Brigham Intermountain Properties. Jones is based in Salt Lake.

"We have spent about $5 million upgrading the property," Jones said. "Most of the work has taken place underground. We have been upgrading all of the utilities--electricity, water, sewer, new roads. Now we want to work on the aesthetics. We have remodeled and upgraded some of the many existing buildings to bring them up to code--about 150,000 square feet. We're waiting on others to see who wants to move in. We have some light manufacturing, warehouses, and smaller tenants. We also plan to proceed with a hotel that will cater to the business traveler."

Companies Like Box Elder's Labor Pool

Box Elder County can expect a marked increase in the number of business travelers in the area over the next few years, thanks in good measure to a recent decision by Odgen-based Morton International to locate its expanded airbag-manufacturing operation in Brigham City. Morton International expects to see its current Box Elder County operations grow from a work force of 1,300 to upward of 5,000 employees over the next few years, said Ken Holmgren, vice president and general manager.

"The availability of a large building was an important consideration in deciding to locate the airbag facility in Brigham City," Holmgren said. "I think it's very good for our business to be located in northern Utah. The majority of the people we hire are high-school graduates. Because our work is specialized, we do a lot of training with assistance from Weber Vocational School in Ogden and Bridgerland Applied Technology Center in Logan. We have good community relations and good community support in Box Elder County. We also have a tremendous work force here that works together well."

The availability of a top-notch labor pool has also been an important factor in attracting and keeping other major employers in Box Elder County. Thiokol Corp., headquartered in Ogden, is Utah's largest private industrial employer. Nearly all of the company's manufacturing operations, including the Space, Strategic, and Tactical divisions, are located in Box Elder County. Thiokol's 19,000-acre complex, located 25 miles west of Brigham City, is the world's largest facility for solid rocket motor research and production.

A Diverse Corporate Community

Thiokol has been a vital contributor to the economic bottom line in Box Elder County since 1957. The company employs more than 6,000 people within Box Elder County with an annual payroll of more than $250 million. More than 3,000 Thiokol employees live in Box Elder County. The company pays property taxes to the tune of about $3.5 million annually.

While Thiokol is far and away the largest, it is not the only major employer in Box Elder County. La-Z-Boy, a nationally-known manufacturer of upholstered furniture and recliners headquartered in Michigan, recently expanded the manufacturing operation it has had in Tremonton since 1979. The company employs more than 700 people in the county depending on the ebb and flow of its annual business cycle.

Tremonton Area Expands Infrastructure

Tremonton is Box Elder County's second-largest town. It has established an industrial park to attract more businesses like La-Z-Boy to the area. The industrial park is one of several redevelopment efforts underway in this town of 4,265 people, said Rich Woodworth, city manager.

"We are putting water, sewer lines, gas, etc. into the industrial park," Woodworth said. "We also have a $600,000 roadway-improvement project underway. We are trying to do things in an orderly fashion--to get the infrastructure in place for economic development. Tremonton is the crossroads of northern Utah because we're located at the I-84 and I-15 interchange. We have companies talking to us, and that's exciting."

Economic development activities are also off and running just a few miles down the road from Tremonton in Garland. With a population of nearly 1,700, Garland is Box Elder County's third-largest community, said Mayor Andrew Funk.

"We have a four-block downtown development district," Funk said. "As we clean up, we are finding more interest in our town from businesses. In fact we are at the negotiation stage with several businesses. We have spent considerable effort on the old U&I sugar factory. It is a 17,800-acre site with buildings, silos, railroad access, water, sewer, and gas. In addition to the ready access we have to I-15, I think our rural atmosphere and honest, hardworking people are our best assets."

Several years ago, the town's hard workers pulled together to support Garland resident Mike Hawthorne and his Adopt-a-City Program. Their volunteer efforts "turned the town around," Hawthorne said.

"Garland is a beautiful place to relocate a business," he said. "We have installed a one million-gallon water tank to add to the 300,000-gallon capacity we already had; the Utah Department of Transportation has done extensive road work; the firehouse has been doubled; and the library is now in a separate building. Through Adopt-a-City, a nonprofit organization, we have completed more than $2 million in projects. What we try to do is get state agencies, military organizations, major corporations, service clubs, and anyone else we can to focus their efforts on one town at a time. Once the townspeople see what can be accomplished, the effort starts to snowball as it has in Garland."

Flying J Takes Off

An effort that "snowballed" describes the phenomenal growth of Flying J, a "homegrown" business that got its start in Box Elder County. Flying J, of interstate travel-plaza fame, took off from the one gas station that founder Jay Call opened when he moved to Brigham City more than 30 years ago. The company, which did more than $600 million in sales last year, now has operations in 28 states across the U.S. Headquartered in Brigham City, Flying J employs 4,500 nationwide with 200 of its employees based in Box Elder County.

"I came to Brigham City in 1960 and opened one gas station," said Jay Call, chairman of the board. "The business just grew. It has seen a steady growth pattern ever since, and we intend to continue."

Despite its continued growth, Flying J has no plans to move its corporate operations out of Box Elder County, according to Phil Adams, company president.

"Box Elder County is home to many of us," Adams said. "We enjoy the quality of life, the people, and their work ethic. Travel time is an issue in any metropolitan area where it usually takes at least 45 minutes to get to the airport. Here, we're just an hour from Salt Lake International Airport."

Central Location

Box Elder County's convenient interstate access, good work force, and adequate water supply were three important considerations for Nucor Steel when the company was looking for a place to locate a steel mill and fabrication plant within close proximity to each other, said Curtis Broadbent, the company's controller. Nucor selected Brigham City (300 employees) and Plymouth (350 employees) as sites for its growing operations, which include Nucor Grinding Balls, Nucor Cold Finish, and the company's Vulcraft division. Vulcraft makes steel joists for commercial buildings.

"Box Elder County is a central location from which to serve our Western markets," Broadbent said. "We're near the interstate which gives us convenient access. Also, we like to locate in rural areas. The work ethic here suits our business. These are good, honest, hardworking people who care about their jobs and the product they produce. We have very little turnover here."

Box Elder County is ideal for companies seeking a rural flavor, Valentine said. The county, which also includes Snowville, Corinne, Bear River City, Deweyville, Elwood, and Fielding, is the embodiment of Main Street, USA. The neat, tree-lined streets and unabashed friendliness of the residents proclaim a county that works. In fact it works so well that the unemployment rate for Box Elder County hovers below 4 percent consistently.

Living in Box Elder County

With a commanding view of the Rocky Mountains' Wasatch Range to the east, Box Elder County's far-flung communities project a small-town atmosphere combined with easy urban access. More than 90 percent of the county's nearly 40,000 residents live in and around Brigham City, the county seat. Brigham City, the largest town in Box Elder County, has nearly 16,000 people. Brigham City has won numerous beautification awards, and is also home to Peach Days, an annual festival that will celebrate its 86th year in September.

"Brigham City is a pretty community," said Roger Handy, city administrator. "Our tree-lined streets are pleasing to the eye. The people who live here like the slower pace and the low crime rate. We enjoy a laid-back lifestyle, but we're close to cultural centers when we want to make the trip."

Brigham City, like most of the county's communities, is located within an hour's drive of Salt Lake City. That means easy access to the symphony, the ballet, theater, restaurants, and the University of Utah, Handy said. Brigham is also nearly equidistant from Ogden to the south and Logan to the north. These cities, less than a 30-minute drive, are home to Weber State University and Utah State University, respectively. In addition to the universities' many degree programs (available on- and off-campus) and cultural and sports events, these cities offer access to skiing, shopping, and fine dining opportunities.

The Great Outdoors

Box Elder residents need not leave the county to have outdoor fun--or even an indoor dose of culture--year-round, Valentine said. In addition to the Golden Spike National Monument 30 miles west of Brigham City, there is the nationally known Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge.

The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, just 15 miles west of Brigham City, is a nesting ground for more than 200 species of ducks, geese, and swans during their spring and fall migration. Though flooded by the rising waters of the Great Salt Lake in 1983, the refuge is slowly recovering. A new visitors' center is included in the plans for the proposed restoration and expansion of the refuge.

Willard Bay State Park, just south of Brigham City, is a huge reservoir that offers boating, fishing, swimming, water skiing, and wind surfing. The park also has picnicking and camping facilities. There are several golf courses in the area, including one at Sherwood Hills Resort, just over the county line in Sardine Canyon.

Hunting, fishing, hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowmobiling are just a few more ways families make use of picture-postcard perfect Box Elder Canyon, according to Valentine. The surrounding valley also has 365 miles of off-road vehicle trails. One of the county's "hot spots" is Crystal Hot Springs, a year-round resort near Honeyville that features hot mineral pools, swimming pools, and water slides, as well as picknicking and camping sites.

The Heritage Theater, which puts on amateur productions throughout the year in nearby Perry, is a weekend favorite of Larry Douglas, director of the Brigham City Museum Gallery.

"We also bring in several |big city quality' concerts and performances every year," Douglas said. "We have had the American Festival Ballet, the Montana Repertory Company, and nationally known storytellers. We also do a variety of programs and shows here at the museum. Our traveling shows vary, but our permanent show includes a collection of historical furniture that represents the founding of the community. We do historical preservation as well. We have put together a walking tour of the historic homes and buildings in Brigham City."


The Box Elder County School District reflects the communities' commitment to their children and their futures. The county has two high schools, two middle schools, 19 elementary schools, and four very small schools located in the far western reaches of the county to serve its more than 10,000 students, said Superintendent Steve Lang.

"We have a very extensive Advanced Placement Program in the high schools," Lang said. "We have a concurrent college program to allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. We also have an Early College Program where students actually attend Utah State University or Weber State University. We also have an innovative extended day program at the elementary-school level that offers enrichment type activities, such as art and music. Our emphasis is on academic excellence. Many of our schools are developing business partnerships.

One of the reasons Box Elder County wants to grow is to provide jobs that will bring its children back. County Commission Chairman James White wants new businesses to relocate to Box Elder that will plan to stay.

"We want to grow, but not too much because we want stability," White said. "I like coming back home, and I'd like to keep our kids here and bring other people in. We have a lot on the drawing board right now. We have people who want to work, a good educational system, close proximity to the airport and to several universities. Salt Lake is really a hub city that can provide needed materials, and it's easy to get there from here."

Committed to Business

The Box Elder County Economic Development team helps to carefully assess the individual needs of companies interested in the county, Valentine said. "We are willing to work with anyone. We are pro-business and need to create 400 to 500 jobs a year to support those who are interested in staying in the community. We are an ideal location for suppliers who want to be close enough to logistically support businesses in the area. We have unlimited outdoor recreational opportunities, excellent educational programs, a variety of churches, extensive parks, recreation programs, and easy access to larger urban areas. We have two small airports in the county. This is a fine place to live and work."

PHOTO : Above: Box Elder County's famous Fruit Way. Right: East meets West at Promontory Point, with the nation's first transcontinental railroad.

PHOTO : Above: Nucor Steel selected Brigham City and nearby Plymouth for their convenient accessibility to western markets. Right: Box Elder County is home to Thiokol Corp., Utah's largest private employer. The plant makes rocket boosters for missiles and NASA's space shuttles.

PHOTO : More than 200 species of birds, ducks, and geese make seasonal stops at the Bear River Bird Refuge near Brigham City.

PHOTO : Right: Historic buildings, circa 1890, are preserved in Brigham City. The town's original firehouse (center) now houses the chamber of commerce. Below: Tremonton, population 4,235, is hometown, USA, and the crossroads of northern Utah.

Elizabeth T. Walker is a free-lance writer based in Logan.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:an economic appraisal of Box Elder County, Utah
Author:Walker, Elizabeth T.
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Will Utah follow the U.S. economic pattern?
Next Article:Utah's newest tax credit.

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