Is Carbon County Ready for Growth in Tourism?


Brooks commends Helper City for its Main Street improvements.

What do you see when you drive through Carbon County? You might see the place you raised your kids, where they performed in a community play, where they went to school, where they played little league baseball. You might see your favorite restaurant, owned and operated by a family friend. You might see your favorite recreational spot, from Nine Mile Canyon to the local motocross track.

But what does an outsider see?

Residents, business owners and government leaders witnessed a photographic look at Carbon County through the eyes of a ‘professional’ visitor: Roger Brooks.

Roger Brooks and his team have assessed, also known as secret shopped, more than 1,500 communities around the world, including a recent assessment of Emery County. Brooks and his wife toured Carbon County last week, visiting local attractions, restaurants, businesses and recreational opportunities spanning from Helper to Nine Mile Canyon.

Brooks’ assessment was presented to the community on Friday as he gave accolades and suggestions that aim to increase spending, both from locals and tourists, and make Carbon County a showcase destination in Utah.

“Tourism is the front door to your non-tourism economic development,” Brooks said. “Nothing showcases quality of life better than tourism.”

Brooks explained that while internal growth in the community is important, outside growth is crucial, and nothing encourages this outside growth better than tourism. According to Brooks, when a visitor considers relocating to an area, it is important to see where they will recreate, spend money and get involved. These lifestyle aspects are an important consideration by potential people and businesses looking to take up residency in the area.

“Jobs are going where the talent is, or wants to be,” Brooks said. He also said they want to be where the fun is.

According to Brooks, this means that the community needs a strong downtown, which should be the #1 focus to increase tourism, and in turn, overall economic development. Brooks said a strong downtown area creates a sense of community, helps reduce spending leakage, creates a strong tax base and brings young families to the area.

“There is nothing better to invest in, other than schools,” Brooks said of a community’s downtown.

To assess Carbon County’s potential, Brooks and his wife made their way through Wellington, Price and Helper, photographing their journey.

Brooks had countless accolades for Helper, complimenting the city and its residents on their beautification projects, business curb appeal and unique attractions, such as the Big John statue and historical architecture. He was disappointed in the hours of operation for some businesses, explaining that 70% of retail sales take place after 6 p.m., a time which many businesses do not stay open to see.

Moving on to Wellington, Brooks was encouraged that the city could develop with proper representation of being “the gateway to Nine Mile Canyon.”

“Nine Mile Canyon is the very best of Carbon County,” Brooks said. “This is the one thing you have that makes you worth more than a day trip.”

Capitalizing on this attraction would be beneficial for the community, as Brooks explained that overnight visitors spend four times as much money as day visitors.

However, while Brooks was impressed by Nine Mile Canyon, he had over 30 suggestions, out of 102 from his entire presentation, to improve the destination. These ranged from proper signage to accurate brochures as well as targeted marketing. During his excursion throughout the canyon, Brooks met visitors from Las Vegas and Baltimore. Both groups made the trip to Carbon County for Nine Mile Canyon, but did express grief at finding key attractions throughout the canyon, emphasizing his points.

According to Brooks, the promotion of Nine Mile Canyon would bring tourists to the area, thus spurring business opportunities throughout Wellington and the county to meet the demand of increased visitors.

Moving to Price, Brooks and his wife spent time on Main Street, searching for the city’s potential to be a downtown destination. However, there are obstacles standing in the way of that becoming a reality.

Brooks once again stressed the importance of business hours, explaining that not only do tourists tend to shop later in the day, but locals do as well since they often shop after their day jobs end at 5 p.m. Beautification was also a key point in Brooks’ suggestions. He was disappointed in the lack of curb appeal on Main Street, showing everything from weeds to drab storefronts. Businesses with a focus on tourism, such as restaurants, specialty stops and stores with late hours, were also a focus Brooks had for Price City Main Street.

Signage continued to be a theme through the presentation as Brooks showed the confusion of directions to the county’s visitor center to storefronts that could add major appeal with the renovation of signs.

While storefronts are important to a city’s downtown, Brooks stressed that events play a key role as well.

“If you bring the people, the businesses will follow,” he said.

Brooks showed examples of other downtown districts that bring out droves of people for things like movie nights, concerts, skating rinks, splash pads and more. While some of his suggestions came with a high price tag, others proved cost-effective.

So, what happens with the 102 suggestions made by Brooks and his team?

Carbon County and its office of tourism will play a key role in evaluating the suggestions and their feasibility. But, these improvements cannot be made by government alone. Brookes explained that a community revitalization needs one important component: the entire community. Business owners, government officials, volunteers, residents and local organizations teaming up is the best way to make a large and lasting impact, Brooks said.

Case in point: Helper.

Brooks raved about the work that has been done in Helper, from the Main Street beautification to the river restoration project to business beautification. He said it is one of the greatest examples of a community-wide effort that is making a difference. And the rest of the county should follow suit.

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