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What is stimulating St. George Utah's Real Estate growth?

By Jane Ann Morison from the Las Vegas Review Journal. From an article posted on 9/9/2012


Since 1984, I've made pit stops in St. George, Utah, on my way to and from the Utah Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City.

I observed growth over the years, of course, but on my most recent trip, somehow the town seemed even bigger, with more businesses, definitely more restaurants and actually, more traffic.

While I routinely see sad strip malls emptied out in Las Vegas, I saw bustling growth in St. George, a two-hour drive northeast of Las Vegas.

Gregg McArthur, who grew up in St. George and has been executive director of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce for two years, helped answer my biggest question: What was stimulating St. George's growth?

About the time I began going there and when he was growing up there, the town had a population of about 15,000. In the late '80s and '90s it took off. Now it has a population of about 78,000.

When the recession hit in 2007, St. George flat lined.

"St. George had foreclosures. We had a mini-crisis here with housing," McArthur said.

The foreclosures often were second homes, but the crisis was miniscule compared with Las Vegas.

But in 2011, growth resumed.

"We're picking up growth, home sales are on the rise, employment is on the rise," McArthur said.

In 2012, there were 2,450 more jobs than the previous year and he's seeing more ribbon cuttings.

He cited several reasons for this latest spurt.

The location is close to the snow, but doesn't get snow. The small town environment in a great temperate climate attracts families and retirees. People who wanted to move there before, but couldn't afford it, are now coming back. St. George is close to Zion and Bryce national parks, and tourism is also increasing.

"This is an events town with outdoor recreation, running, biking, swimming and Tuacahn," McArthur said, referring to the popular outdoor theater.

St. George is always making lists of top places for living and retiring, in magazines including Fortune and Forbes.

"But more than retirees is the strong family growth," McArthur said.

St. George is booming with more retail business.

"We got our first Buca di Beppo," he said with pride. Small frozen yogurt shops are opening, and doing well. Glass and ice cream manufacturing plants are starting to operate at higher capacities.

"Across the board, there's an uptick in most things," McArthur said. "Before the economy was relying on new home construction."

Back home, I caught up with old Wall Street Journals and saw an Aug. 18 column by Sohrab Ahmari, who returned to Logan, Utah, for his 10-year high school reunion. He saw in Logan what I saw in St. George.

He said, and McArthur agreed, this economic uptick was happening across Utah.

Like Ahmari, he believes the Utah Legislature's action cutting the budget by $2 billion in the first two years of the recession was one reason for Utah's faster economic rebound. According to McArthur, there were not a lot of complaints about those cuts, which reduced state services back to 2000 levels.

Another business positive: Utah's 5 percent corporate tax rate hasn't increased in 15 years, providing stability for new businesses.

I can vouch for the increase in restaurant choices, having sampled my first Black Bear Restaurant going up to Cedar City and stopping at George's Restaurant coming home. Traditionally, I've been more of a Painted Pony or Bear Claw type of person, but having choices is pleasant.

My dream is to stop at Chuck-A-Rama, which people say is a wonderful buffet, but always sounds like too much food. Then I'd like to spend a few days at Red Mountain Resort, the pet-friendly place that ends up on lists of best spas and resorts, where I could eat healthy, exercise, take classes and trek in the red hills.

Notice I would go to Chuck-A-Rama first.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday in the Las Vegas review journal.


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