The Grind Coffeehouse Café in Cedar City, Utah is exactly what you would expect to find on Main Street in Anytown, USA.
Or at least what you might have expected a few generations ago.
If you wait the five or so minutes it takes to brew each and every cup of “the best coffee in the world,” you can enjoy some of the home-made food, or browse the bookstore, a neighboring shop that has an inner opening to the coffeehouse—because kindness is one of the top properties in town.
As you step outside and stroll along the easily traveled roads, you’ll quickly come across a signpost listing distances to various locations, including both Zion National Park (only 93 km away) and Key Largo, Florida (2,566 miles ). ); a drug store with a surviving counter service run by “Soda Jerks” from another era; and a plaque commemorating the fact that Hollywood came to Hollywood in 1924—a year after Union Pacific completed the railroad line—to film Deadwood Coach, the first of thousands of movies set in the scenic area became.
The city is run by retired businessman Garth Green, the 73-year-old first-term mayor who, on the city’s website, literally describes himself as the modern-day “Opie Taylor” and proudly recalls growing up as the fire chief’s son.
But if you think this town of about 35,000 people off Interstate 15 in southwest Utah — a three or four-hour drive from Salt Lake City to the north, Las Vegas to the west, and the Grand Canyon to the south — is lost in a time warp, serving only as a backdrop for Instagram photos, one would overlook what Cedar City really is: a boomtown where people and businesses flock.
The old-fashioned charm of historic downtown is just one of the amenities of a small town recently ranked by WalletHub as the fourth best in the country for starting a business.
And while the modeling and metrics of these types of rankings are always open to interpretation and skepticism, this statistic shouldn’t be overlooked: Utah had nine cities in the top 25 in the under 100,000 population category — including five in the top 10.
New Jersey had none in the top 250, despite the affluent suburban, small-town landscape that characterizes the state, its geographic location, and its well-educated workforce.
We wanted to know why.
Here are some thoughts after a three day stay, one of about half a dozen I’ve had in the city over the past three years.
Chris McCormick, the CEO of the Cedar City Chamber of Commerce since 2015, is quick to point out all the reasons Cedar City is so good for business, and snitches on a number of organizations and programs aimed at that goal, including a small business innovation center and a women’s business center — both of which are in work collaboratively with the chamber and two local universities: Southern Utah University and Southwest Technical College.
When a startup thinking about coming to the area approached the chamber recently, McCormick organized a meeting that was attended by all the well-known organizations, including some of the 363 chamber members.
“We have a group of partners in our small business development center,” he said. “They help companies develop a business plan, a marketing plan, conduct market research – anything that really helps you get down to earth and look at things you might not see so you can be successful. “
And while Cedar City-area officials are eager to help startups, established companies — including those who see they can get product to Los Angeles and Denver in eight hours — are also showing interest. 2021:
- American Food Packaging announced it will open a new facility that will employ 100 people;
- Armscor, a guns and ammunition maker, is bringing a similar number of jobs to a new facility; and
- Goex has broken ground on a plastics factory.
Goex did so at what Cedar City officials are calling their Port 15 Utah facility, a 540-acre rail-connected industrial park aimed at attracting manufacturing, distribution and warehousing businesses. They tout it as the “best served industrial area west of the Mississippi.”
Green said the state is attracting companies from around the world, including the East Coast.
“They love Cedar City,” he said. “They don’t like Arizona or Seattle or San Francisco because it doesn’t work for them. But they can’t get here fast enough.”
“They come because they want quality of life.”
Green said the city has attracted businesses from New York, but so far it hasn’t attracted anyone from New Jersey.
Cedar City’s economic growth comes from Vision Iron County, a 178-page document outlining the area’s plans for 2050 and beyond. McCormick said one of the keys to the vision is that it includes more than just Cedar City, which is part of a Utah network of economic development officials.
Cedar City officials are working with those in southwest Utah, including the St. George area (the city of 90,000 that is less than an hour away), as well as with other rural chambers and the state chamber.
The state itself has numerous assistance programs, including one that covers up to 40% of training costs when a company wants to come to Utah but needs to train workers upon arrival.
Of course, the best number comes at tax time.
Utah, one of 14 states with a AAA credit rating, also has one of the lowest corporate tax rates at 5%. State income tax is lower.
And Utah didn’t have to borrow during the pandemic. In fact, the state has increased its Rainy Day fund — a fund that has now saved more than $1 billion. You won’t find any gimmicks in the 2023 state budget, which is estimated at a record-breaking $25 billion.
McCormick said the state’s fiscal health influences everything economic development groups do — leading to a spirit of partnership.
“If we speak to a company that doesn’t suit us, we work to find another area,” he said. “We want to bring companies to the state.
“We’re constantly having conversations with other groups about how we help each other, what tools are needed, what things are needed to help businesses grow and thrive, and to help our communities be strong and healthy ?
A strong and healthy community. That’s what Cedar City officials are accusing the companies of.
The area’s two high schools are strong; The county hospital has just received an “A” rating in the latest Leapfrog safety ratings.
There are four seasons. And unlike other parts of the state, it doesn’t get too cold in winter and not too hot in summer.
It’s a place for those who love nature. Included in the natural beauty of the numerous national parks are hiking and biking trails. When the World Ironman Competition, which is always held in Hawaii, needed a new location this year due to the pandemic, it chose St. George.
Looking for culture? Cedar City has one of the largest Shakespearean theater complexes in North America – with three theaters performing from mid-June to mid-October.
And McCormick said the population is full of many who have traveled outside the area (often on religious missions) and speak numerous languages. He called it an unexpected plus for businesses coming to Cedar City.
That being said, Utah is as red a state as New Jersey is blue. That leads to differences. Big differences.
Looking for variety? You will try to find it. Essentially, five out of six residents are white.
Looking for acceptance? Well, the local university has a Pride Alliance dedicated to supporting LGBTQ+ students. But acceptance of what some call “alternative lifestyles” or mindsets isn’t what you might think. A billboard off Interstate 15 featured an organization aimed at supporting “multiple families” (so you think); another not only questioned evolution, but thwarted the idea while promoting creationism.
MoBettas, a fast-casual restaurant chain specializing in Hawaiian food and founded by two Oahu brothers, opened a restaurant in Cedar City the weekend I was there.
The store is on the outskirts of town and wouldn’t be considered walking distance from the historic part of town, the university and most apartments – although, to be fair, it’s only a mile or two from all of that.
The restaurant, which features surf decor in a city and state more than 400 miles from the Pacific Ocean, now has 30 locations in the chain — and 24 are in Utah.
“It’s just a great place to open a store,” the store’s rep told me during the soft opening.
McCormick and Green are not surprised.
“Companies just keep looking and coming,” Green said. “They find what they want.”
McCormick said he knows some of the reasons why.
“Not only do we have a very well educated workforce, we also have a very motivated and ethical workforce,” said McCormick. “And this is one of the biggest volunteer areas I’ve ever seen. The people who come here really believe in this culture of ‘let’s help our neighbor.’”
McCormick and Green both say the city and state are selling themselves. They said the WalletHub ranking that led to this story will also lead to business inquiries.
“We haven’t had to work really hard to attract companies in recent years,” he said. “The awards, which are printed in newspapers and websites across the country, get people to come up to us and say, ‘Let’s take a look at what you have to offer.'”
It’s up to you to decide whether that’s appealing.