Optimism over Kane County’s economic future was a common theme at the 7th Annual Kane County Business Summit held January 16 at Stampin’ Up! CEBA Executive Director Kelly Stowell and Kane County Economic Director Matt Brown hosted the well-attended, upbeat event that featured guest speakers discussing local and state business and economic trends.

“We need to realize, it’s our turn,” said Brown, emphasizing the conference theme. “Many (businesses-entrepreneurs) are reticent to go first.”

Breakout sessions included topics of crucial importance to southern Utah, such as marketing, filmmaking, technology, energy and tourism.

Kane County Commissioner Dirk Clayson stressed that county leaders are focused on raising the life standard here by growing the economy. Specific efforts will be on tourism, improved infrastructure, using and maximizing natural resources, and attracting tech jobs.

District 73 Utah House Representative Mike Noel commented on the upcoming legislative session that starts January 26. He said key issues facing the state are air quality, transportation and water. He said specifically for rural Utah, he wants to work on increasing jobs and the economy. He mentioned that the state must do something about education, possibly taking a long look at the Uniform School Fund and income taxes for increased funding.

“Kane County has paved the way for other RS2477 road claims throughout the state,” said Noel of the recent Kane County court win concerning roads. He said he will seek money to reimburse Kane County’s transportation fund for some monies spent on roads litigation.

Switching gears, Noel commented on the Kane County Water Conservancy’s Jackson Flat Reservoir. He said there has been progress with it filling, and the issues concerning the Indian burials have been resolved with the local tribe. “We’re ready to move forward with the recreational aspects of Jackson Flat.”

Kanab Chamber of Commerce President Colette Cox, along with vice-chair Erin Robinson, said plans for the group include expanding its shop local program, scheduling monthly workshops, partnering with local and state entities, and sending positive messages about the local business environment.

Travel Director Ken Gotzen-berg spoke of Kane County’s healthy tourism industry. Kane ranks fifth in the state for tourism dependence, and that results in big revenues for the county ($76.3 million in Kane County, with $5.4 million in taxes). He spoke of trends, including more Canadians visiting, as well as increased ‘volunteer tourism’ at Best Friends. Gotzen-berg was pleased with the increase of hotel rooms in Kanab, with Comfort Suites and Hampton Inn opening this year, with each adding 85 rooms. He encouraged everyone to come to the Kanab City Library on March 5 to the community brand rollout of the new Kane County marketing plan by Love Communication.

South Central Communications CEO Michael East spoke of his company’s commitment to Kanab becoming the first all fiber optic community. “We are committed to the success of this community building to 100 percent of the locations.”

Garkane Energy CEO Dan McClendon reported the cooperative serves an enormous 16,000 square mile area, and has 14,000 members. “This is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in,” the new Kanab resident commented. He encouraged those in attendance to support change and not accept failure. “We have the answer to go forward and far.”

Perry Thompson, of the Governor’s Office of Energy, spoke of ‘powering the economy.’ They hope to develop technologies for rural communities; the goal being facilitating high paying jobs, promoting healthy rural communities through economic opportunities and advocating all energy development.

Best Friends CEO Gregory Castle spoke about leveraging the Best Friends experience; where the organization is now, and where they want to be in the future, with no more homeless pets and animal welfare always the ultimate goals. He cited how many visitors who actually visited southern Utah, as well as the 300,000 friends of Best Friends who would love to visit the sanctuary. He said the organization recently hit $19 million in revenue, and employs over 600 people, 400 in Kanab. In addition, there will be a year-long PBS documentary that features the sanctuary called, ‘Save Them All-Best Friends Animal Society.’

“We are a growing organization. As we grow, we want to reduce visitor impact,” said Castle, “This is an extraordinary environment. We want to maintain the specialness of the area.”

Castle spoke of his desire that Kanab keeps vigilant on maintaining and preserving its quaint, small western town atmosphere. He expressed concern that the new motels being built will integrate well with Kanab’s small town personality. “It’s all about what people take away after visiting here. They get re-energized.”

“We did not connect that much with the community at first,” said Castle, saying the founders and employees were (and still are) totally immersed in their mission of animal welfare. “As we’ve grown, there’s very little evidence of Best Friends in town, other than a billboard.” To change that, Best Friends is in negotiations to purchase Adobe Fitness Center for both employee and community use. “We will also establish a mini welcome center in town to have a more visible presence.”

Amangiri’s Activities Director Jade McBride and Executive Chef Shon Foster gave a presentation on ‘The Secret Sauce.’ What ingredients make the luxury resort so successful? Since opening in 2009 to its exclusive clientele (Aman junkies – the top 1 percent of the wealthy), Amangiri has boasted a robust 70 percent occupancy rate. In 2009, the going rate for a standard room was $650 a night. In 2014, that same room cost $1500 per night, with the three-bedroom villa going for $8300 per night – with no food included! Amangiri’s TRT contributions make up 20 percent of Kane County Tourism revenue. “It has been a wonderful and dramatic couple of years,” said McBride.

“So what’s the secret sauce,” repeated Foster. “We believe it’s because of the people. It’s the Aman experience. It’s the feeling they get when they spend time with us. We treat them like family and friends.”

“This is a recipe that can be used by others,” furthered McBride. “How can we connect with people when they visit here?” He said it surprised him when he first arrived, how many local businesses talked about the tourists as if they were a problem. “They wanted their money, but not the people. We had to inspire change. We had to show them how fun it is to share what we have here with our guests!”

International Mountain Bicycling Association Regional Director Patrick Kell talked about the future of cycling in Kane County. His organization is working with people here to develop a system of mountain biking trails. “The IMBA unites trail users and communities behind appealing trail projects.” Kell said projects like this are attractive because they have minimal impact, with minimal user conflict, and minimal maintenance. Mountain bikers are often affluent, spending in a community on average $98 for day visits, and $227 for overnight.

Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation Director Brad Petersen spoke concerning outdoor recreation. Sixty four percent of Utahns recreate outside at least once a week. Seventy nine percent of visitors will return once they visit Utah. 6.3 million visitors came to Utah national parks in 2013, with 4.1 million at state parks. He stressed the beauty of this area, and how many people want to come recreate here. “Outdoor recreation should be a core strategy for Kane County.”

“I’m a huge fan of this area,” said Jeff Edwards, CEO of Economic Development Corporation of Utah, who provided the keynote presentation.

EDCUtah is an investor-based public/private partnership working with government and private industry to promote Utah. It specializes in being a source of critical economic data and key public/private contacts to facilitate the recruitment of out-of-state companies, and spur the development and expansion of local business.

Edwards commented that Kane County’s strengths are numerous, including being located in an amazing natural setting, strong work ethic, several existing major businesses such as Stampin’ Up! and Best Friends, proximity to three universities, and being a regional tourism center.