St. George’s future is bright despite growing pains and COVID challenges, St. George, Utah, Jan. 13, 2022 | Photo by Stephanie DeGraw, St. George News
ST. GEORGE — The St. George metropolitan area’s economy is booming despite growing pains and COVID challenges, according to St. George Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Don Willie.
Willie addressed business leaders during the State of Business Luncheon on Wednesday at the Dixie St. George Convention Center, during which he thanked the many people involved in the chamber’s success, including the board of directors and many committees.
“We could not do it without you as a community and without all the hands that are involved,” Willie said. “I’m excited as I share a reflection of last year. As we look forward, I want this group to know that this only happened because of you. You stepped up to a call to help be a positive influence in this community, to be a leader, to give back.”
In 2016, Washington County’s population was 159,352. In 2021, the population rose to 190,617, a growth rate of 19 percent. During the same period, the rest of Utah’s population grew 9% and the nation grew 3%.
“We are growing; we are growing fast. We are growing in an awesome way and welcoming new individuals from diverse backgrounds, different ideologies, who are bringing so much to our community and bringing a different mindset that’s complimentary and empowering to the existing community,” Willie said. “But let’s also be smart about how we grow as a community.”
Business leaders are excited about what the future holds, yet, Willie cautioned, growing too fast and irresponsibly could cause things to go off the rails.
“So that’s our caution as business leaders and government leaders. We’ve got to be careful with this. We want this growth; it’s good, and it’s positive for us as a community,” he said. “But we also need to proceed with caution to recognize that there are constraints we’re dealing with and concerns we’re dealing with.”
The chamber recently conducted a survey of members running primarily small businesses. Many are micro-businesses, with one to four employees. Willie said the response was from diverse companies within and outside the chamber.
The survey revealed local business leaders have the following concerns:
- Supply chain.
- Increasing wages.
- Workforce shortage.
- Quality of the workforce diminishing.
- COVID variants.
- Workforce housing.
- Government regulations.
“You can see where we’re feeling the pressure as a business community,” Willie said.
The survey also asked what changes are here to stay in the community with the pandemic. Willie noted that COVID is not going anywhere.
“COVID variant after variant will make its appearance, right? So these are some of the things that businesses are saying; this is here to stay, and we’re going to embrace it. We’re going to do what we can with hybrid work schedules or work from home,” Willie said.
Some comments from the survey showed people want life to get back to how things were pre-pandemic. But Willie remarked that the world has shifted, and life is never going back to normal, just like everything changed after 911.
“If you haven’t been to an airport pre-9/11 and post-9/11, you don’t know. But if you have, it’s fundamentally different. And we’re not going back,” Willie said. “So things have changed. Our community has changed the way we do business, but it doesn’t mean it should stop us in any way.”
By and large, Washington County came out of COVID very strong during 2020 and especially throughout 2021. The survey asked about economic strength and the confidence level of businesses. Eighty-nine percent of respondents are confident that their company will grow.
“The future for our businesses is incredibly bright,” Willie said.
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