SUU In View (Alumni Magazine - Fall 2003)
Rural Development Helps Revitalize A Small Town Industry
In keeping with the mission of SUU to be a regional university, primarily serving rural central and southern Utah, the regional services office of the State of Utah Rural Development Council are located on the campus. Their charter directs their operations to focus on economic development for rural and central and southern Utah as well. The symbiotic relationship between the university and the regional services office allows for graduates of SUU to return back to their homes following the completion of their educations to career opportunities previously not available. A striking example of one project recently completed in Escalante, Utah is providing new opportunities as well as saving jobs for people living in that area.
The Micromill project in Utah is about connectivity. It is about partnering. It is about community. It is about people trying to survive and support families in what are often harsh and unfriendly circumstances.
Escalante, or Escalant as the locals would say, is located in south central Utah. Some say it is the most remote spot in the continental United States based on distance from an interstate highway. With a population of about 800, it has a high school and an elementary school, a grocery store, three gas and convenience stores, and a part-time medical clinic that is visited by a doctor, nurse, or physician's assistant twice a week.
The nearest hospital is over 60 miles away. They do not have a dentist. At any given time during the tourist season there are eight eating establishments open, which change ownership frequently. There are also eight motels that are in various stages of being open.
Major employers in the community are the saw mill - about 80 employees - school district, the telephone company, and the federal government. Garfield County, where Escalante is located is 98% controlled by either the state of Utah (4%) or the federal government Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), or Forest Service (94%). The county contains, or borders two (2) National Parks, a National Recreation Area, and a National Monument about 600,000 acres in size besides their regular BLM and national forest land.
Two years ago the Utah Rural Development Council was approached by Mr. Steven Steed, manager of the Southern Utah Forest Products Mill in Escalante, a local non-profit company seeking assistance to keep the Southern Utah Products Mill operational.
With the timber industry in disarray and on the decline the saw mill, the largest employer was in danger of being shut down. They had lost a number of timber sales to environmental lawsuits/protests and to "deep pocketed" competitors from out of the area. Additionally, what was being offered by the forest service was increasingly small diameter material and their mill was not equipped to economically handle the small diameter material and sell it at a profit.
They had come to the Utah Rural Development Council for assistance and through a complex and complicated set of circumstances were able to partner with many private and public entities which allowed for the mill to be preserved.
During the long and arduous process the out of state owner of the mill decided he wanted to sell the mill. The manager Mr. Steed, realizing the disastrous consequences to the economy of the community, agreed to purchase the mill if a suitable preservation plan could be developed.
In order to accomplish this task the mill owner worked with the SUU Business Department and the SUU Small Business Development Center, as well as the Small Business Administration (SBA), the Utah State Department of Business and Economic Development, The Utah Department of Forestry, Five County AOG Revolving Loan Fund, USDA/Rural Development, USDA Forest Service, a certified development company, three banks, and other City, County and State entities.
Through the collective efforts of many, the newly designed Escalante sawmill with its attendant jobs re-started in July of 2002 under the name of Skyline Forest Resources. An industry in a small town was saved, and in essence, the community and its cultural and social make up were saved.
One might ask why was the University and the Rural Development Council involved in such an effort? The answer, it was the right thing to do and additionally, one of the fundamental purposes of the University, as is cited in the Southern Utah University Mission Statement, is public service and to "enhance economic, technological and cultural development of the communities served." D. Scott Truman serves as the Executive Director of Utah Rural Development which is head-quartered on the campus of SUU.
Scott Truman Receives Award
As a direct result of his splendid efforts in the Micromill project in Escalante, D. Scott Truman, executive director of the Utah Rural development office of Southern Utah University recently received the "Rural Impact Award" from the National Rural Development Partnership (NRDP), in Washington D.C. The Award presented by Utah Senator Robert Bennett recognized the Rural Development office for innovation in saving rural jobs and bolstering rural economies. The Micromill is the largest employer in the community and was set for closure in the fall of 2001. By purchasing the mill and retooling the operation the rural development partners provided the community a means of removing small-diameter timber (a large cause of forest fires) and milling it on site.
SUU and the other partners were awarded the 2003 Rural Impact Award for their hard work in helping prevent forest fires, saving jobs and directly impacting the lives of individuals living in rural areas.