By Elsie Powley Rackhmam
When we think about growth and new construction in Utah, our thoughts turn quickly to the St. George area. As 2020 began, the Dixie area was still a state leader in construction of planned developments, housing, industry — especially the exploding tech sector — and commerce.
And there a bunch of reasons that is happening.
St. George is the third- largest city in the state of Utah and one of the fastest- growing. Washington County is experiencing unprecedented growth. In fact, Washington County was recently ranked as the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the United States and it’s not slowing down anytime soon. In March 2020, the United States Census Bureau released a report on the fastest-growing regions across the country and St. George was included on the Top 10. St. George ranked fifth in growth among all metro areas, growing 29 percent — from 138,115 residents to 177,556 over the past 10 years.
In the year 2000, St. George had a population of 50,000. State projections forecast that in the next 50 years, the area will increase to a population of nearly 500,000.
The new population growth includes retirees from Northern Utah and Southern California as well as new workers, new students and others.
Why St. George?
With all the amenities of a larger city — but with a small-town feel — St. George provides the best of both worlds. Less than two hours to Las Vegas and four hours to the Grand Canyon, St. George is close to international landmark destinations. Plus, the St. George Regional Airport enables easy access to Phoenix, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City or Denver.
Closer to home, incredible recreational areas include Sand Hollow Reservoir, Quail Creek and Lake Powell for water sports and boating and Snow Canyon State Park and Zion National Park for hiking and rock climbing. In the heat of the summer, mountain recreation areas, including Brian Head, are a perfect place to cool off. It’s a great place to have all those things at your fingertips.
St. George has over 300 days of sunshine every year. Warm weather is an attractive benefit for many relocating there. Sports tourism is a major avenue of new visitors becoming exposed to the area. A variety of competitive tournaments and race events, such as the Iron Man, bring athletes and spectators from around the world.
Because St. George is a haven for sports enthusiasts, retirees, families and more, there is a strong draw across multiple demographics to relocate to St. George.
What about Water?
The Washington County Water Conservancy District is responsible for water planning and stewardship for Washington County. Their approach to providing water to the growing population is to conserve first and find alternative sources of water second.
“Using secondary water source for irrigation extends the local water supply while reducing costs to the end user,” said Zach Renstrom, general manager of the Washington County Water Conservancy District.
The city is dedicated to providing water using responsible methods as well as emphasizing conservation.
St. George Mayor Jon Pike said in his 2020 State of the City address, “Washington County was the first in Utah to have a water conservation plan, the first to meet the governor’s statewide water conservation goal and we’re the first to house a Localscapes master-planned community, Desert Color. We care about water conservation and our actions.”
New Development Projects
New housing projects and major community developments are currently underway throughout the St. George area. In the heart of downtown, Joule Plaza is a mixed-use apartment complex that opened in December. The mixed-use project includes more than 19,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space and 200 residential apartments on the upper floors. This project introduces amenities and urban lifestyle into downtown St. George.
Desert Color is the largest planned community in the St. George area, with a total land area of 3,400 acre to be developed over the next few decades. Desert Color’s first residents are moving into the community now, looking forward to future areas currently being developed, including commercial, vacation rental area, senior neighborhoods and more. Desert Color’s first water recreation area is anticipated to be complete by the end of this year.
Housing and Construction
Trends in construction reflect the evolving demographic makeup of the area. New home starts are in the thousands every year in St. George, reflecting that rapid increase in population growth. With a strong religious following in the community, church meetinghouses are built constantly, while the St. George Temple is under a massive renovation and update and another temple in Washington will be under construction soon.
St. George first drew attention as an optimal location for retirement, but that’s been changing over the recent years. The Washington County School District is expanding with an increasing population of children and teenagers.
Russell Leslie is the vice president of Sunroc Construction in St. George. Leslie has seen and been involved in the construction of many new elementary, middle and high schools. Leslie believes this is because the area is becoming more attractive to families as great place to raise kids. There are nine high schools now in Washington County, including the recently opened Crimson Ridge and Desert Hills high schools.
Along the I-15 on the north end of Washington County, Exit 16 is undergoing a major expansion. This expansion will increase access to Zion National Park and Washington City, including neighborhoods such as Coral Canyon neighborhood. It is critical that major infrastructure keep pace with population growth to mitigate traffic to protect the quality of life that many people moved to St. George to enjoy.
Leslie has seen how resilient St. George is during economic downturns. “St. George is a great place to live. One of the things I’ve noticed over the last 24 years is that as the economy cycles up and down, St. George is usually the last to cycle down and the first to cycle back up,” he said.
Many businesses in the area are doing well and thriving, and the technology sector is expanding. PrinterLogic is building a new facility on Tech Ridge, the site of the old St. George Airport.
Rusty Hughes, interim director for the St. George Area Economic Development Council, is excited about new growth and economic opportunities. “We are seeing a lot of development throughout Washington County, including plans for a multi-use track for emergency vehicle training and automotive industry test tracks, new apartment buildings, a long-term assisted living center (Ovation), expansion of the commercial near Exit 13 and more,” she said.
One successful new business is Paparazzi, an international jewelry company, newly headquartered in St. George within the Desert Color development. Its new expansion will create hundreds of jobs and strengthen the economy of the area.
St. George continues to grow with new development projects, businesses and international attention. While there are challenges to the impressive growth the St. George area is experiencing, community stakeholders are focused on solutions and maximization of opportunity.
Elsie Powley Rackhmam works in corporate communications and is public relations director for Clyde Companies, the parent company of Geneva Rock, W.W. Clyde, Sunroc, Sunpro, GWC Capital and Beehive Insurance.