The Center for Education, Business and the Arts (CEBA), hosted an economic forum on March 24 and 26 at the Kanab Middle School. The program featured a group of inspired professionals that addressed topics concerning ways to get down to business in a rural community.

A state of rural Utah address was presented by Brian Cottam, the interim director for the Office of Government Relations and Regional Services at SUU, said that while unemployment is still slightly increasing, Utah is still lower than the national rate. Of late, rural Utah has experienced a 0.9% increase in unemployment.

The Rural Partnership Board (created by statute in 2010), has adopted an ‘economic gardening’ focus. This includes prioritizing strategies for rural partnerships, involving growing local business, including start-ups and expansions. Small businesses with three to nine employees are the focus primarily with a BEAR (Business Expansion and Retention) attitude.

“Small businesses are the life blood of rural communities,” said Cottam.

Break-out sessions included Ted Wilson, public meeting management, Greg Powell, customer service training, and Bim Oliver, business basics in an un-basic economy.

Wilson became senior advisor to Utah Governor Gary Herbert on the environment and chairs the Governor’s Council on Balanced Resources and leads the Governor’s Ten Year Energy Initiative. In the break-out session, he addressed how rural communities could deal more effectively in conflicted situations, both from an elected official and taxpayer’s standpoint.

“A challenge in rural communities is having a tolerant attitude toward everyone,” said Wilson, “one where both ideas and cultures are appreciated.”

He offered great suggestions on public meetings and empowerment for those participating in conflicted issues, including not allowing personal attacks, and keeping culture away from politics. He emphasized that both sides of an issue had to give a little in negotiations, and they shouldn’t focus on positions, rather focus on interests.

Powell, currently an Associate Professor of Management in the School of Business at SUU, and a founding partner of Meridian Consulting Group, LC, spoke about customer service training.

Oliver, a consultant with more than 20 years experience in community-based economic development and planning, gave a presentation on transforming your community into a healthy business environment. He spoke about knowing the challenges in your rural community, working with local officials and business owners.

“Public officials may not be fully sensitive to business owners,” said Oliver. He later added that business and property owners often lack time, are skeptical or cynical, or are not motivated to make changes. “Understand your economic geography, and understand the big picture.”

In business recruitment efforts for rural areas, Oliver said that communities should identify target business types, invite them on your terms, focus on fundamental values, ensure long-term feasibility and carefully assess employment impacts.

Keynote speaker Paul Allen has founded several well-known companies in the consumer content and social space. He was the founder of Ancestry. com He also launched MyFamily.com. His newest company and primary focus now is FamilyLink.com. He spoke of entrepreneurship, technology and rural Utah.

Allen said when he told his 11 year-old daughter that he was going to be speaking in Kanab, she responded, “I really want to come with you dad – I’ve never been out of the country.”

He spoke of Kanab’s potential, and the ability of someone to start a new idea and grow it. “You have to develop and grow a community from within, there’s so much potential here.”

Allen said that in his area of social space and digital technology, young people are who to look to. “Information technology is the key to entrepreneurship in rural communities. You can do entrepreneur projects from anywhere.”

He urged everyone to anticipate the future, citing hockey great Wayne Gretsky’s quote when asked how he scored so many goals. Gretsky responded that he anticipated where the puck was going to go, and got into that position and then shot it. Allen said that lesson could be applied in a very practical way to creating or expanding rural businesses.

“Anticipate the future, and build something of value,” said Allen.