Helping coal country strike new opportunities

The Utah Coal Country Strike Team signed a first-of-its-kind agreement to help Utah’s Coal Country (Carbon and Emery counties) diversify their economy. The agreement puts in place local leadership for the execution of the Utah Coal Country Strike Team work plan, which includes workforce training, housing revitalization, tourism infrastructure and customized economic development incentives. Price City, Castle Dale City, the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments, Utah State University-Eastern (USU-E) and the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah (Gardner Institute) signed the agreement.

“The Utah Coal Country Strike Team complements our community’s vision to diversify, invest, and secure a bright future for residents,” said Price Mayor Mike Kourianos, who, along with Castle Dale Mayor Danny Van Wagoner, co-chairs the effort. “I’m thrilled to see two public universities join arms with us as we create a better future for our children and grandchildren.”

The coal communities of Carbon and Emery counties suffer from a decade-long recession, even as the state of Utah has thrived. Utah leads the nation in job growth since 2010, while jobs in Utah’s Coal Country have declined by 16%. The region suffers from high unemployment, net out-migration, poverty, depreciating home prices, and, sadly, an opioid death rate three times the national average.

“The disappearance of coal mines and an uncertain future for our coal-fired powerplants creates a significant challenge for us,” said Van Wagoner. “The Strike Team will help us transition our economy. We welcome this partnership and the future looks bright.”

The Utah Coal Country Strike Team has the potential to serve as a national model for others to follow as the nation transitions to renewable energy. The U.S. currently has approximately 150 coal-dependent communities. A recent report by the Brookings Institution concluded these communities will continue to face significant economic hardship because of stagnant electricity demand, advances in competing generation technologies, unfavorable export conditions, and concerns about a changing climate.

The signed agreement includes the following objectives:

Partnership and mission

Create a strategic partnership that draws upon the strengths of all named entities to increase income for 10,000 households by 10% in Carbon and Emery counties.

Locally led

Ensure the partnership is locally led by the local association of governments and county seats, with helpful research, advising and funding support provided by the Gardner Institute, and workforce training by USU-E and the University of Utah (when desired training opportunities are not offered by USU-E).

Coordination and communication

Improve the coordination and communication of the Strike Team so each entity is aligned and well-informed, and the process is transparent.

Data-driven research

Improve the availability and quality of data-driven research to inform decisions, improve economic outcomes and measure success.

The Utah Coal Country Strike Team thanks the University of Utah Office of the President’s Alliance for the American Dream and the Utah Legislature for funding these efforts. For more information about the Strike Team, visit coalstriketeam.com.