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Business with a southern accent.


Along I-15: From Hell to Heaven

St. George's original Mormon settlers were part of Brigham Young's "Cotton Mission," an effort begun in 1861 to produce warm-climate commodities to sustain the Latter-day Saints as the eastern states became mired in civil war. The nickname, "Utah's Dixie," was a natural outgrowth of the times and came to denote the entire area that would become Washington County. From Springdale at the mouth of Zion Canyon, to the winding tree-lined streets of Santa Clara, Utah's Dixie has undergone an amazing transformation. Once a place where nobody wanted to live, it is now the place where everyone wants to live.

Even the man St. George is named for, George A. Smith, had a difficult time envisioning a future here. Smith is said to have uttered words to the effect that if he had a lot in St. George and one in Hell, he'd sell the one in St. George.

It was the heat, the stark, rugged landscape, the isolation, which caused the early settlers' despair. Yet, decades later, those very elements would ironically become the key to Dixie's success. Old Brigham must have seen the light from the beginning: he was the first northern Utahn to build a winter home in St. George.

Growth has become a way of life in modern-day Dixie. St. George's population doubled in the 1980s, from 13,146 in 1980, to 28,502 in 1990--the largest percentage increase of any city over 5,000 population in the state. Washington County itself has nearly reached the 50,000 mark. "The rich tradition of struggle to build the town and the close feeling of community created by those trials provide us a great heritage," said Mayor Karl Brooks, who led the city through the 1980s. "People who consider making their home here seem to catch that spirit," he said. "They're looking for something, and they find it here."

In fact, people are finding what they're looking for in Utah's Dixie at a bewildering rate. Washington County grew by 86.3 percent in the 1980s, while the state as a whole grew 18 percent.

Reasons for Growth

It wasn't until the early 1960s that tourism and recreation began to upstage agri-business in Dixie. The city's location smack on Highway 91, which later became Interstate 15, was a definite advantage. The highway ran through St. George like a life-giving artery. Motels and restaurants lined what is now St. George Boulevard as the place became a popular rest stop between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City. In the mid 1960s, city fathers finally succumbed to the idea of building a golf course. "When the Dixie Red Hills Golf Course opened 25 years ago, it was not just the opening of a new recreational facility," said Mayor Brooks, "it was the opening of a new era in St. George." One golf course became two, and within 25 years, the Dixie area boasted eight excellent courses.

Yet it would take much more than golf courses to propel St. George into one of the most popular places to live in America. In the late 1960s, a company called Terracor developed the resort community of Bloomington. The project, which transformed a nearly dead farming community south of downtown St. George into a captivating, modern country club, literally put St. George on the map. At the beginning of the 1980s, another development, Green Valley, ushered in a new decade of growth. Condominium projects by the score popped up in southwestern Utah. During the mid '80s, in fact, there were more than 80 condo projects on the market at one time in the St. George area.

By the latter part of the '80s the condo craze eased off, but St. George continued to grow. Rankings such as Rand McNally's "Retirement Places Rated," Prentice Hall, Money, and the American Association of Retired People, rated the St. George-Zion area among the best places to retire in America. The retirement boom catapulted Utah's Dixie into the 1990s as new single-home developments like Fairway Hills, Kayenta, and Crystal Lakes became the latest chapter in a continuing real estate saga.

Health and Fitness

Now in their fifth year, the Huntsman Chemical World Senior Games bring athletes 50 and older to Utah's Dixie for two weeks in October to compete in more than a dozen events--from track and field, to cycling, tennis and swimming. John and Daisy Morgan of the St. George Hilton Inn are the founders and driving force behind the Games. More than 1,500 athletes participated in the world Senior Games in 1990. They came from 40 states and three foreign countries. Senior athletes with their families and friends converge on St. George each fall to not only compete, but enjoy the scenic and recreational opportunities as well as seminars on lifestyle and fitness.

In the meantime, Green Valley transformed itself from a second-home resort for northern Utahns into a world-class tennis and fitness spa. The National Institute of Fitness (NIF), located in Ivins at the mouth of Snow Canyon, had already paved the way for Utah's Dixie as a nutrition and health center. NIF, owned and operated by Dr. Marc and Vicki Sorenson, hosts weight loss and health clients in a unique program situated in a scenic setting. Rated by Shape as one of the top 10 spas in the United States, NIF employs some 70 people, hosts more than 100 guests a week from all around the world, and is responsible for pumping more than $3 million annually into the Dixie economy.


"Utah's Dixie is still being discovered," said Floyd Fox, executive director of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce. Fox, sitting behind his desk in the restored pioneer courthouse on St. George Boulevard, indicates the level of interest in the community continues to grow. "We have three lines lit up most of the day." said Fox. "It is not uncommon to respond to between 60 and 100 phone calls a day and to welcome a similar number of people who walk in daily wanting to know more about the area." said Fox. Being ranked the no. 1 retirement spot in the country has brought considerable attention to the area. With seven golf courses, golfing has become a major attraction where the game can be played year round. Similarly sports enthusiasts come to participate in the world senior games and decide to stay. In identifying all St. George has to offer, local leaders have concluded, we have |everything under the sun.'"

According to Mayor Brooks, 1990 saw 554 new residential buildings permitted in St. George, compared to 311 in 1989. "The first six months of 1991 reflect a significant increase of more than 25 percent in new residential construction compared to 1990," Brooks said. Many of the homes are being purchased by retirees who sell their home elsewhere at a price much higher than the home they buy in St. George. The average price of a St. George home in 1990 was $83,554, although the average for 1991 has risen to $93,956.

People--the Greatest Asset

Yet beyond the definable factors of economics, scenic setting and lifestyle, Fox comes back to a less tangible asset: people. "The caliber of people living and moving here is really one of the area's greatest assets," he said. "They're not people who sit on the front porch watching the grass grow. There's plenty to do: a symphony, a celebrity concert series, historical lectures, book clubs, college and community theatre, continuing education, sports events, and a long list of other activities. These are things people not only attend, but also become involved in as volunteers," said Fox.

With the onslaught of retirees coming to Dixie, one might think the area is top-heavy with senior citizens. But, according to Fox, that is not true. In 1980, 13 percent of Washington County's population was 65 or older. By 1990, the share had increased to just 15 percent. Projections by the Utah Department of Employment Security estimate that even at current trends, the county's 65-plus population will be around 12 percent in 20 years. The biggest increase in population is expected in the working ages (20-64)--from 44 percent in 1980 to 55 percent in 2010.

The Retirement Industry

Retirement has become an important industry in southwestern Utah, providing job opportunities in construction and other service industries. "More and more people are retiring at earlier ages with more disposable income and more mobility than ever before," said Mayor Brooks. "They bring their income with them, pay property taxes, and make a very positive impact on the economy," he said. "But they also bring a high level of education, refined cultural tastes, and active participation in civic, community, social, and recreational activities."

The impact of retirees on Dixie's economy is graphically illustrated by recent sales of the Ence Group in St. George. Jay Ence, who heads up the largest home building and marketing company in southern Utah, targets the retirement market with a variety of home developments. Milo McCowan, broker of Ence Realty, keeps detailed records of sales. A look at a cross-section of more than 100 Ence Realty buyers between January and April of 1991, showed that well over 70 percent of those who bought homes were 50 or older. About 38 percent of the buyers came from Utah, 22 percent already lived in St. George, and 18 percent came from California. The remaining 22 percent were from other parts of the U.S. and foreign countries. But the most telling statistic in McCowan's study was the fact that well over 60 percent of the buyers paid cash for their home.

"Every segment of Dixie's economy is affected by real estate," said Floyd Fox of the Chamber. "In 1990 alone, some 180 new jobs were created in construction." More than 1,000 people work in construction in Washington County. Some 20 real estate agencies belong to the Washington County Board of Realtors, employing more than 225 people.

Tourism and Conventions

St. George, Hurricane and Springdale have postured themselves as ideal gateways to dozens of natural wonders including national parks and monuments, state parks, national forests, recreation and wilderness areas, and ghost towns.

Penny Shelley is executive director of the Washington County Travel and Convention Bureau. Her office, which administers an annual $500,000 promotion budget, has seen increased interest in the area over the past decade. Dixie's main calling card is Zion National Park which hosts over 2.3 million visitors a year. The county has more than 60 restaurants, with 45 of them in St. George. In the last eight years motel rooms have nearly doubled in the county, from 1,382 rooms in 1983, to 2,527-and-counting in 1990. The convention schedule at such locations as the Dixie Center, the Holiday Inn, and the Hilton Inn, is slated full through the busy season stretching from January to May.

The Dixie Center, built in 1986 at a cost of $12.8 million, served nearly 150,000 people in 1990. The four-building complex is the central focus for community events like concerts, trade shows, professional conferences, demonstrations, banquets, conventions and athletic events. Dixie College uses the facility extensively for everything from basketball games to Elderhostel.


Recreation in Dixie can mean anything from hiking and horseback riding, to a leisurely stroll through the new St. George City Art Museum, which currently houses the Ferrante Collection, a fascinating exhibit of period art pieces dating back to the time of, and many attributed to, the old masters.

With the completion of Washington's 18-hole Green Springs course two years ago, and the 18-hole course at Sunbrook west of downtown St. George last year, Dixie has become a true golf destination. Other courses include the original nine-hole Red Hills course, the St. George Golf Club at Bloomington Hills, the Bloomington Country Club, and Southgate Golf Course--all of which are 18 holes--and a nine-hole course at Twin Lakes.

St. George Leisure Services Department is responsible for dozens of sports and recreational events during the year, including softball tournaments, and the St. George Marathon, held the first Saturday in October, which annually draws more than 2,000 runners and has become one of the most popular marathons in America.

The St. George Art Festival, held Easter Weekend on Main Street, draws more than 100 of the West's best artists every year. There's the Dixie Roundup Rodeo, the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred horse races at Dixie Downs, and numerous other horse-related events year-round.

The St. George Rotary Club sponsors the annual Dixie Rotary Bowl in early December. The bowl, which features two of the season's top junior college football teams, has become one of the premier junior college bowls in America. In the performing arts Dixie has its own symphony, as well as the Celebrity Concert Series which books a continuous slate of world-class acts at the Dixie Center and at the O. C. Tanner Amphitheater in Springdale.


Business and industry in Utah's Dixie are growing as rapidly as the population. At about the same time city leaders were planning the first golf course in St. George, a group of private businesspeople were putting together the area's first industrial park. That park is full, but the city actively promotes a new park called Millcreek. City Development Director, Bob Nicholson, has the charge of developing and promoting industry in the city.

In spite of fierce national competition for clean, light industry, Utah's Dixie boasts a wide range of quality firms. Among the major employers are Moore Business Forms, Rocky Mountain Co., American Recreation Products, Everex Systems, Sky West Airlines, and RAM Co.

Prime sites in the fully developed Millcreek Industrial Park are offered at $20,000 per acre as part of a comprehensive property acquisition incentive package. Ray Ganowsky, president of RAM Co., confirms the city's claims that it costs less to establish and do business in Dixie. "It would have probably cost us two to three times as much to set up business in Southern California," he said. RAM Co., which employs 80 people, is the city's idea of the perfect industry for St. George. The company manufactures precision components for the aerospace industry. "The city has been very good to work with," said Ganowsky, "especially in the area of site purchase and development. It's not difficult to find quality employees here, and when we hire people from out of the area, they're excited to move here."

Nicholson, Fox, and even the mayor, are quick to point out that the area's best selling point is its people--"A relatively stable, eager, hard-working and honest labor force," as Mayor Brooks puts it. "The strong work ethic of Utahns is well documented," said Nicholson. "Labor-management relations are good here and we have a quality, skilled labor force. Managers tell us that employee turnover is minimal compared to other areas."

St. George does not have a monopoly on industry. The City of Hurricane has become a hotbed for small industry and the entrepreneurial spirit. That spirit is illustrated in Mike Tagget's Chums Ltd., manufacturers of the Chums eyeglass retention device. The company, which grosses more than $3 milion annually and ships product all over the world, began and grew to maturity in the quiet, scenic community of Hurricane. The same spirit that spawned Chums has swept the Hurricane landscape. Curatech labs, Bullberry Barrel Works, and Hurricane Electronics are among the progressive plants found in Hurricane's city-developed industrial park. Next door in LaVerkin, Roy Mendoza of RM Precision Swiss, manufactures small diameter parts for clients worldwide.

Sky West

One of Dixie's key links to the world has been Sky West Airlines. The carrier got its start in 1972 as one small commuter plane to Salt Lake City. With airline deregulation in 1978, the company began to grow rapidly, and the Atkin family founders kept company headquarters in St. George. Routes opened throughout the Intermountain West, and in 1984, the airline bought Sun Air in Palm Springs, Calif., doubling its size. In 1987, Sky West became part of the Delta Connection.

According to spokesperson Kristan Norton, Sky West employs 1,506 people, 277 of them in St. George. "In addition to being an excellent place to conduct business, St. George is also centrally located in our system," Norton said. The company will break ground for a new corporate headquarters in St. George this December. The 50,000 square-foot building will be built on 15 acres, not far from where the first settlers set up camp 130 years ago.

"Sky West has been responsible for an interesting phenomenon," said Floyd Fox of the Chamber. "We're seeing an increase in outstanding, successful people who move to St. George for the lifestyle, but have their business or profession in places as far away as the East Coast." Examples of the St. George commuter phenomenon are Hyrum Smith of the Franklin Institute, a St. George resident who works all over the world, and Donny Osmond who recently moved to Dixie for the lifestyle it offered his family, while still in proximity to his music career in Southern California.


The $20 million Red Cliffs Mall opened in August of 1990. Utah's largest shopping center south of Provo was created by Price Development, with anchor stores including Penney's, Wal-Mart, and ZCMI. The mall employs 475 people and expands the St. George market to include such outlying communities as Page, Ariz.; Panaca, Ely, Mesquite, and Overton, Nev.; as well as Delta, Fillmore, Cedar City, Kanab and Panguitch, Utah.

St. George is currently involved in a downtown redevelopment project to vitalize businesses along Main Street and St. George Boulevard. A historic district has also been created in which significant historic buildings are being restored and a theme developed for the area to capitalize on Dixie's rich pioneer heritage. Nearly two dozen tour buses a day stop at the restored Brigham Young winter home one street north of St. George Boulevard. More than twice that number stop at the St. George Temple visitor center south of downtown.

Healthcare, Religion and Education

Dixie Regional Medical Center, a 100-bed hospital with 70 physicians on staff, serves more than 90,000 residents in the tri-state area. Administered by Steven Wilson, DRMC has experienced unprecedented growth in last decade.

DRMC is particularly noted for its regional cancer center, CT scanning, sleep disorders laboratory, cardiology department, Life Flight air ambulance, weight management, psychiatric services, and physical therapy.

The influx of retirees to St. George in recent years has created a truly cosmopolitan community in Dixie. New LDS ward buildings are continually under construction in the area. In the past year both the Catholic and Presbyterian churches have built beautiful new buildings in St. George. The Trinity Lutheran Church recently remodeled, significantly increasing its size. And the Community Baptist Church has also been recently renovated. Grace Episcopal Church is planning a building off the South St. George Interchange.

The educational climate in Dixie is equally vibrant. A quarterly catalog containing city, school district and Dixie College offerings is packed full of opportunities for learning. Dixie College grows yearly, with a current enrollment of 2,500. The Washington County School District is one of the fastest growing districts in the state with more than 14,000 students enrolled this year. Several new schools are currently under construction. The school district is the county's largest employer with a staff of more than 1,000.

"We have accepted growth as a way of life here," said Mayor Karl Brooks. "It's inevitable. We've committed to our future with new roads, a new sewer treatment plant, expanded water resources, natural gas service, and more electrical power--but as we move into the future, we're also committed to stay in touch with our past, to hold onto the values and the lifestyle that made this place so great in the first place."

PHOTO : St. George and other sections of Utah's Dixie have seen business boom.

PHOTO : Ancestor Square in the Historic District of downtown St. George.

PHOTO : Crystal Lakes is one chapter of the housing story.

PHOTO : The World Senior Games have made an economic splash in the area.

Lyman Hafen is a freelance writer and Editor of St. George magazine.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Olympus Publishing Co.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:St. George, Washington County, nicknamed 'Utah's Dixie' witnesses 86.3% growth rate in 1980's and becomes booming business climate due to tourism, recreation and retirement industries
Author:Hafen, Lyman
Publication:Utah Business
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Previous Article:Utah's business climate: a pro-business stance?
Next Article:Bright spots in 1992.

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