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On their way up: the rise of doing business in Weber and Davis Counties.

Weber and Davis counties may seem to be rivals, yet they are intimately related because of their close proximity.

"Each of Utah's counties is different, that's what makes them unique. Each brings different strengths and weaknesses to the table. [Weber and Davis] are indeed like siblings, but neither is Mom or Dad's favorite," says John Mathews, Northern Utah Regional Economist for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. Mathews notes that in an economic sense, the two counties are similar in size, but they are different in terms of the industries that fuel them.

"Weber has a larger manufacturing base, albeit shrinking due to the recession. Hill Air Force Base (HAFB) has been one of the primary reasons Davis County has not been so heavily impacted [by the downturn in the economy]," says Mathews.

With 23,000-plus employees, HAFB is the single largest employer in the state and the prime .mover in Davis and Weber counties. With an annual budget of $9.6 billion, HAFB has more economic clout than many nations and would rank 202nd among the Fortune 500 companies. The annual payroll is $750 million, while the local economic impact is estimated at $2 billion annually.

As Kent Sulser, Economic Program Developer for Davis County, points out, "Defense spending increased 23 percent in 2001." And that was before our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq. Defense is a growth industry, and both counties depend on it.

And the residue of past Defense Department projects gets good return on investment. Davis County's Freeport Center, at 7.7 million square feet, the largest industrial park in Utah, was originally a defense depot. Among the many manufacturing companies at Freeport Center is ICON Fitness, manufacturer of exercise equipment such as NordicTrack, ProForm and HealthRider. ICON stands out as a success story in Utah: Started 25 years ago in Logan, it now employs almost 600 at its Davis County facilities. Other Freeport stalwarts include Lifetime Products, makers of recreational products, such as basketball standards; and Utility Trailer, manufacturer of refrigerated semi-trailers.

In Weber County, the former Defense Depot Ogden has been successfully transformed into the Ogden Regional Business Industrial Center (ORBIC), the third-largest industrial park in Utah. ORBIC boasts over 4 million square feet of available warehouse space on 1,128 acres and is the home for the Ogden Standard-Examiner and its state-of-the-art Printworks publishing facility.

As Mathews points out, "Davis is far more dependent on defense than Weber. Except for local schools, virtually all of Davis County's government jobs are at Hill Air Force Base. Twenty-three percent of Weber's jobs are government, but they are spread among schools, the Internal Revenue Service and the Forest Service.

There is no doubt that government is a primary employer in both counties," Mathews concludes, "but don't downplay the rest of the economic activity."

And while both counties rely on government jobs, in most other ways, Weber and Davis counties project opposite images. The rivalry and competition between these two determines their regional economic climate--and defines their separate personalities.

Davis County: A Balancing Act

Davis County's population is increasing by 5,000 new residents a year, many of whom travel outside the county to work. "We are working hard to provide more jobs in the county, but 45 percent of Davis workers commute outside the county," says Sulser.

Approximately 15 percent travel north to Weber County, and twice that many head south to the comparatively lucrative job market in Salt Lake County. Contrasting the relative salaries of three Utah counties against the national average illustrates the economic realities: Nationally, the 2001 average monthly wage was $2,900. In Salt Lake County, that figure was slightly lower, at $2,740. By comparison, Davis County's average monthly wage was $2,392 and Weber's was $2,287.

According to Sulser, one of the challenges is land use. Left unchecked, residential developers would soon fill every available space with housing. But if there are no jobs available in the community, residents will commute elsewhere to work and the tax dollars generated by those businesses will benefit other municipalities. "Commercial growth will occur," Sulser says, "but it will not occur as fast as residential developments want it to occur. Our goal is to help local communities hold firm to their master plans until the commercial industry develops."

Davis County Chamber of Commerce President Chris Dallin says the county is planning for future growth. "It's a wise business manager who will try to have several sources of income, so Davis County is becoming more diverse. In addition to our retail, we are planning for future manufacturing growth. City fathers have set aside land in the Clearfield area. There's manufacturing there and in Woods Cross, so that's beginning to happen."

Sulser says, "Keeping more of our workers in Davis County would help to improve lifestyles and give back much-needed time and money to our workforce."

Weber County: Manufacturing & Redeveloping

Weber County has a very strong manufacturing base, says Cody Craynor, communications director for the Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce. That solid base includes Ogden Commercial & Industrial Park, Weber County Industrial Park, Little Mountain and Kapp Industrial Park.

Nonetheless, manufacturing in Weber County has been hard hit by a series of layoffs in important local businesses. Levolor-Kirsch, manufacturer of window blinds, closed its Ogden plant, eliminating 220 jobs. Futura Corp., manufacturer of aluminum trim, boat accessories, and truck grills and handles, cut its Ogden workforce from 270 to 226. Most recently, Iomega, manufacturer of digital data storage systems, announced 200 job cuts as part of a restructuring plan. The company has yet to announce which facilities will be affected, but the move will no doubt hit hard at the Roy facility where 500 are currently employed, comprising almost two-thirds of Iomega's total workforce.

"Manufacturing in general right now is not the strongest economic cluster," concludes Ron Kusina, executive director of Weber Economic Development Corporation as well as president/CEO of the Ogden/Weber Chamber of Commerce.

Construction of the Ogden Gateway Center Business Park at the Ogden-Hinckley Airport is a key component of future growth. Construction was recently completed on the first phase, an 85,000-square-foot structure. Corporate offices are located upstairs, above airplane hangars. The next step is to establish a regional repair and maintenance facility (MRO), which is projected to employ 1,200 workers by 2010 and earn $55 million annually in gross income.

"The economic ramifications for the project [will impact] a lot of different sectors," Craynor explains. Travel and tourism will benefit. The facility will be able to service private and corporate jets. "They are actively courting airplane maintenance facilities," Craynor said. Aerospace-related businesses in Weber County include Parker-Hannefin, Williams International and Jetway Systems. "Aerospace is a very important cluster" in the Weber County economy, Craynor points out.

Rebuilding the Central Business District

Craynor says the key to Weber County's growth is redevelopment of the Ogden Central Business District, including the final demolition of the Ogden Mall.

"I think you'll see a stronger retail base through the developments that are taking place right now, such as that brown field you can see out my window," Craynor reflects. "That development will bring quite a bit of retail--a shopping experience--into the downtown area."

What Craynor refers to is the barren field that greets visitors to Ogden when they take the 24th Street off-ramp from I-15 and arrive at Washington Boulevard. The 20-acre demolition site was once a thriving shopping mall, but it found itself unable to compete with regional malls. The recent demise of the Ogden Mall allows the city a chance to start over with a comprehensive development plan. Final demolition of the mall will be completed soon, and a new, mixed-use project is being developed by C/G/P Partnership of Denver. The $50- to $70-million project will combine 200plus residential units with retail stores, movie theaters, office buildings, recreation facilities, and restaurants.

Asked to summarize recent development in Ogden, Richard McConkie, Community & Economic Development deputy director, says, "It was a goal of this administration to create 4,000 jobs and 4,000 residential units downtown. We're well on the way toward that goal." Other vital RDA projects include:

Union Square on Historic 25th Street: 60 townhouses, 14 commercial units. The first half of the project is completed and ready to be occupied.

IRS Buildings: Boyer Company completed the first phase of the IRS project for 800 workers. Cottonwood Development has begun the second phase of the project, the conversion of the Scowcroft Warehouse. When completed, it will employ about 500.

Ogden High-Tech Center/School: Ogden City recently secured a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce to purchase a key component of the downtown redevelopment area. Combined with a $900,000 grant from the state of Utah, the city plans to transform the vacant, 250,000-square-foot American Can Company into a high-tech center. The project could generate high-tech jobs, while the high school could enroll as many as 1,000 students.

McConkie admits it's expensive to rehabilitate older structures for modern use. "You've got to be able to find tenants. The success of Ogden has been the ability to structure the financing so the developers can make a reasonable return."

The American Can Company project is even more significant because of its location just south of the Ogden River "Riverfront Neighborhood Plan," under way by developers Cottonwood Partners. "This is one of the most significant projects of the last couple of decades in Ogden," McConkie believes. When completed, he points out, "you'll have a critical mass of residential neighborhood with approximately 700 housing units."

The Ogden River winds through a 50-acre, six-block area that will include townhouses, rowhouses, urban lofts and apartment buildings, as well as some retail. McConkie is clearly excited about the project. "This is the nucleus for the redevelopment of the city," he says. "It's all coming together."

Bob Sawatzki is an Ogden-based writer and editor.

Bob Sawatzki has lived in Weber County for 20 years and has published his creative writing--both fiction and nonfiction--regionally and nationally. Since 1988 he has served as editor of The Rough Draft, the award-winning literary newsletter of the Friends of the Weber County Library.
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Title Annotation:Northern Utah Guide
Author:Sawatzki, Bob
Publication:Utah Business
Geographic Code:1U8UT
Date:Aug 1, 2003
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