BEAR Press Release
Many people have seen the new buildings that have risen from empty ground near the Carbon County Fairgrounds and have been a bit perplexed by the sign in front that says SERDA. It may appear to be a new agency in the area, but it is actually the rebranding of a familiar organization that has been around since 1968, SEUALG (Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments).
“About three years ago, I approached the chairman of the SEUALG board about the possibility of getting a new building to house our agency and he was amenable to that and so was our board,” explained Geri Gamber, the Executive Director of the agency, as she spoke at the Business Expansion and Retention general board meeting on Jan. 25. “We approached the Community Impact Board (which is funded with state energy revenues) about that possibility. They approved the funding and today we are standing in that building.”
Gamber went on to tell the group that there are seven Associations of Governments (AOGs) in the state and that SEUALG is one of them. During the time the new building was being funded and built, the agency’s staff, along with the board and many in the community, helped to develop a new name for the organization as well. Looking for more simplicity, the name Southeastern Regional Development Agency (SERDA), was agreed upon and that is what it will be know as from now on.
Addressing the BEAR audience that day, a number of department managers of SERDA spoke to the group.
“We ended up with the new name because we are a regional entity,” said Jade Powell, the Deputy Director. “We serve Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan counties. Secondly, we also focus a great deal on development, such as economic development, community planning development, social development and even human capital development. We want the region to build upon itself.”
He then went into the general things the agency is working on, such as economic diversification.
“We have some critical events that will happen over the next seven to 10 years in the region, such as the closing of the two power plants in Emery County,” explained Powell. “We are working on diversification so that the closures will not be as big a hit as they could be. We still want to be the center of power generation and we have the workforce and the power line distribution infrastructure to do so. So, we are looking at the possibility of leveraging those assets through other means.”
Powell continued, “For instance, small modular advanced nuclear reactors could be an alternative, or carbon sequestration or even hydrogen powered generators. SERDA is doing feasibility and impact studies on these kinds of technologies and those studies are being funded by the Department of Energy.”
He also pointed out some the general economic work being done, such as community reinvestment and the rural county grant programs. The present partnership with Silicone Slopes is still very strong. The Silicone Slopes East Chapter helps with business technical help and remote work as well as other activities. The BTAC (Business Technical Assistance Center) on Carbon Avenue in Price is still being managed by SERDA, as it was when the agency’s offices were located in that building before the move.
Powell also explained that the Revolving Loan Fund is still in operation. Camille Otto is the manager of that fund and it can help businesses by doing gap funding. The money available does not take the place of a bank loan, but helps when a lending institution can’t loan the total amount of money that is needed for a start up or expanding small business.
Lacee Meyer then spoke about various projects she manages. One is the Main Street Project, which works with towns to revitalize their main streets. She and Christine Watkins also work with cities and towns as planners, doing such things as training, planning or grant writing.
“I also am working on public transit issues in the region,” said Meyer. “Right now, there are some vouchers for transit in the area, but we are trying to work on public transit for everyone. First, we are seeking to find what people perceive as their needs. What we have heard so far is that micro transit in the area is what is needed. People who don’t have vehicles need to get around. We are working on a three- to five-year strategy plan for what that looks like.”
Vickki Ori, who handles Government Affairs and Housing Rehabilitation, then spoke about the housing projects that have been going on in the region for a number of years.
“Right now, applicants can receive up to $25,000 if their income is 60% of the area’s median income,” she said. “This is a grant that can be used to do critical repairs to homes. We can also get emergency grants through the Olene Walker Housing Rehabilitation program for up to $4,999 and also have available up to $40,000 in loans with low interest. New to the agency is the critical repairs program, which is run through Housing and Community Development. This can be used for electrical repairs.”
She also spoke about the USDA Self Help Construction program, which has already benefited four families in the region. The families involved work in a kind of barn raising project where they, as a group, work on individual houses, along with licensed contractors and a construction supervisor. Presently, there are six homes under construction in the area. These are USDA projects with a low interest on the loans.
Julie Walker, who is the Community Services Program Manager and Circles Coordinator, then spoke about some of the programs her department manages.
“Circles is a program to help low income individuals. When they join the program, they are called leaders because they lead themselves out of poverty,” she stated. “We are there to help facilitate that. We ally the leaders with volunteers to help them. This creates an intentional friendship and is the best proven model for long-term poverty reduction.”
She also spoke about the food bank and the community garden program. There are three food banks, one each in Carbon, Emery and Grand counties. They also do home delivery when needed because there are many people who cannot make it to the facilities. There is also a special extra food box that is offered to individuals 60 years old and over. The community garden in Carbon County is being moved from its old location to near the new facility so that will continue to help feed the community as well.
The next BEAR General Board meeting will take place on Feb. 29 and will be held at the Jennifer Leavitt Student Center Alumni Room on the USU Eastern Campus. The meeting will take place between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and the speaker will be Spencer Loveless presenting on Merit 3D.