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Utah Across Utah Tour: Summit County leaders ask for help with planning, workforce

During University of Utah President Taylor Randall’s visit to Eastern Utah on Aug. 16, leaders from Summit and Wasatch counties asked for more access to the university’s expertise to help them better serve their residents.

“I have realized being on the city council, the elected five people, we’re really generally uneducated in city management, city growth, urban planning, anything to do with that,” said Mike Johnston, a member of the Heber City Council. “Most city decisions are emotional. We’re not using logic and data. What we need is to be educated.”

When it comes to navigating challenges like increasing affordable housing, conserving water, and protecting the Great Salt Lake, Johnston said he and other community leaders want to make a positive impact, but they don’t always know what the best practices are. Workshops like the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute provides to state lawmakers that present current research without being prescriptive would be a valuable tool for elected officials on the local level, he said.

On the fourth leg of his Utah Across Utah Tour, Randall and U research and student engagement leaders visited Utah Film Studios, met with Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation leaders, and rode the 90-foot Nordic ski jump in inner tubes, along with U student Olympians Casey Dawson and Ethan Cepuran, who won bronze medals in long track speed skating during the 2022 Olympics in Beijing. The university president ended the day with an alumni dinner at the Utah Olympic Park.

Along with Johnston’s plea for training in best practices for managing growth, Summit and Wasatch County leaders asked for help training and educating hospitality and recreation workers. Jonathan Weidenhamer, economic development manager for Park City, wants to implement strategies that not only fill entry-level and seasonal positions but also provide the resources those employees need to become leaders in the hospitality industry.

Randall said new stackable credentials and online education programs may be able to help with ski industry and hospitality workforce needs sooner rather than later.

“We’re at an inflection point in higher education and an inflection point in the economy,” Randall said. “We’re rethinking the way we provide education to the students of Utah. We want to design education in a very different way. We want students working and then coming and getting more education as they need it.”

According to Randall, the program has been created with deliberate consideration for the needs of the Latinx community, which makes up a significant portion of the hospitality workforce, to ensure they will benefit from this program.

While visiting the Utah Olympic Park, Colin Hilton, chief executive officer for the Utah Olympic Legacy Foundation, highlighted the U’s contribution to the state’s Olympic legacy over the years—from providing housing and medical care during the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City to helping the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil continue despite a Zika virus outbreak. Most recently, the university supported the foundation in bringing Ukrainian athletes to Utah to train this summer.

If the Winter Olympics return to Utah in 2030 or 2034, the U will once again play an integral role in supporting the games, Hilton noted. He suggested partnerships between the U and the foundation in areas like smart coaching, athlete training, housing and health care for athletes will be key in supporting future Utah Olympians.

“People think Olympians just happen. Olympians are a byproduct of a good system,” Hilton said.