Implementation Cornerstone 3:
A Thriving Rural Utah
Rural communities in the state have their own opportunities and challenges, which vary from place to place. Though 90% of Utah consists of rural private and public lands, the vast majority of Utah’s population, and the focus of much of Utah’s prior strategic effort, is in the urbanized Wasatch Front and Back. As Utah’s population nearly doubles by 2050, however, we need to ensure that rural Utah thrives, while still maintaining its rural heritage. Utahns resoundingly support having a balance of uses for our public and private rural lands in order to foster thriving rural economies. The following elements are key to a thriving rural economy:
Developing a diverse rural economy that is founded on multiple industries (e.g., agriculture, recreation and tourism, energy, and mining) will increase economic growth and improve resilience to economic shocks and downturns.
Agriculture and food production
By treating agriculture as a significant industry cluster, with the same focus and incentives as other key industries in Utah, we can increase agricultural production, improve the state’s food self-sufficiency, grow rural economies, and enhance Utahns’ ability to eat healthy, locally grown food. We can improve and expand agricultural production, for instance, by using new technologies and efficiencies. Profitability of Utah’s agriculture will also improve if producers can sell food directly to consumers or if we pursue value-added processing.
Recreation and tourism
Expanding the number and size of recreational facilities and improving access to outdoor areas is necessary to keep up with increased demand from Utah’s growing population and number of visitors. Improving Utah’s recreational access can increase the economic benefits of tourism for rural Utah and improve the quality of life for all residents.
Energy development and mining
Pursuing energy development of both fossil fuels and renewables in a careful, responsible way can promote economic growth in energy-rich parts of the state. Similarly, mining and minerals, one of Utah’s oldest industry clusters, can continue to provide jobs and economic growth in rural Utah.
Many Utah watersheds have been impacted by erosion, invasive plant species, pollutants in the soil or water, or poor management practices. As a result, they no longer store water and prevent flooding as well as they used to. Implementing watershed management strategies such as restoring native plant and animal species, using the best grazing and farming techniques, and reconnecting streams and rivers to their natural floodplains will improve watershed function. In a watershed that is functioning well, water runs off more slowly, resulting in less flooding and cleaner water. Healthy watersheds also ensure that more water is captured and percolated into aquifers so that it can be stored and used later.
Increasing rural Utahns’ access to high-capacity, fast Internet connections will improve the ability of rural communities to attract and retain new businesses and telecommuters and provide high-quality education to families.
Supporting a thriving rural Utah by improving these elements is a robust strategy with significant benefits for jobs and the economy, water, agriculture, recreation, public lands, and education. Specifically, benefits include:
- A vibrant, diverse rural economy based on strong industries in agriculture, energy, mining, recreation and tourism, and other sectors
- Better educational opportunities by connecting students to more resources
- Improved ability for new generations to stay in rural Utah because a strong economy and quality of life will prevent them from having to move elsewhere
- Improved food self-sufficiency and access to healthy, locally grown food
- Increased water storage in aquifers
- Reduced flooding and a cleaner water supply
- Healthy ecosystems
- Preserved cultural heritage
- Good access to recreational areas and opportunities