When Angela Arnold was laid off at the end of last year, she didn’t know if she would find work that would let her stay in Carbon County. But then she got a job that keeps rural workers home by design. With training and support from a new company, Accelerant BSP, she answers calls from her house for HealthEquity, a Draper-based health savings account firm that manages over $5 billion for more than 3 million customers.
“The idea is ultrasimple: Create rural jobs while filling the needs of the urban company that can’t find adequate talent on the Wasatch Front,” said Joel McKay Smith, CEO of Accelerant Business Solutions Provider.
Even though she took a 50 percent pay cut, Arnold, 43, considers herself fortunate to have a steady job with benefits.
“I’ve grown up here since I was 5,” Arnold said, ”and with the coal mining decline, I’ve seen the community in its best days and this is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
As the economy in Utah as a whole expands, job losses have devastated some rural counties. Gov. Gary Herbert hopes to see more solutions like Accelerant BSP during his push to create 25,000 jobs off the Wasatch Front in the next four years.
While the governor has heralded the rural push as unprecedented, there’s no clear path forward, and success might not be enough to reverse the trend.
Creating 25,000 jobs in those counties would represent the smallest amount of job growth in any consecutive four-year period this century, outside the Great Recession. From 2004 to 2008, before the recession settled in, rural Utah grew by more than 32,000 jobs. From 2012 to 2016, the counties grew by more than 27,000 jobs.
Economic analysts in the governor’s office said that the goal of 25,000 jobs is ambitious, but achievable, and takes into account the possibility that economic growth of recent years might not continue.
But the Department of Workforce Services (DWS) described the goal as “realistic and conservative.”
It may be easy to create 25,000 jobs in places like Washington and Summit counties, concedes Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who is in charge of the 25k Jobs Initiative. But the plan aims to stimulate growth everywhere, he said. “We have communities that are actively losing jobs and we want to turn those around and make them positive,” Cox said. “While the number is important as a goal, I’m much less focused on that goal than on seeing job creation.”
By early next year, rural economic development officials will give the governor’s office their plans for growing jobs. At this point, there’s no funding earmarked for those efforts.
But rural Utah will need to improve technology infrastructure to “develop a 21st-century economy,” said Don Albrecht, director of the Western Rural Development Center, which works on rural economic development in 13 Western states. “The smartest investment would be to get high-quality internet, high-quality information technology in these places,” he said.
Arnold said Accelerant’s opening gives her hope for her hometown.
“I’m excited that a company will come into our little depressed area and say ‘I believe in you and we see you are valuable,’” she said as she choked back tears. “It’s good to know that somebody cares.”