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Long-term planning projections highlight economic challenges, opportunities in Utah’s coal counties

June 9, 2022 by Nicole Mason

The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute today released a report that references the institute’s 40-year population and employment planning projections to highlight how scheduled power plant closures and declining coal production will affect Utah’s coal counties. This research will help local officials and policy makers plan for the coming decades as economic circumstances continue to change.

“Carbon and Emery counties face continued economic hardships in the years ahead,” said Price City Mayor Mike Kourianos. “But by working together, and with informed research to guide us, we can address our competitive advantages and our role in a prosperous Utah economy for decades to come.”

Key findings from the report include the following:

  • Carbon and Emery counties experience net out-migration – Both Carbon and Emery counties have lost population in recent years due to net out-migration and job losses. Carbon and Emery counties are expected to experience population decline in the 2030s, driven both by out migration and low natural increase. However, starting in 2040, positive net migration is expected to create new growth in the county.
  • Employment is projected to decline and then begin to recover – As employment declines in the natural resources and utilities sectors, there will be large effects on the local economy. Greater economic diversity will help to maintain employment levels closer to existing levels.
  • Shared Challenges – Carbon and Emery counties face six likely economic and demographic challenges over the next several decades:
    • Declining employment from the natural resources and utilities sectors
    • Concentration of manufacturing growth in northern Utah counties
    • Peaking projected employment growth, particularly in manufacturing, in 2040
    • Declining fertility rates
    • Increasing out-migration of young populations
    • Net in-migration of retirement-aged populations

Included in the report are potential strategies for Carbon and Emery counties over the next 20 to 40 years:

  • Create a set of connected 5-, 10- and 20-year economic development strategies – Projected economic and demographic growth shows the importance of prompt action in the face of the scheduled power plant closures in 2036 and 2042. These dates are useful guidelines, but changing market forces have caused some power plants to close earlier than scheduled. Additionally, employment in manufacturing and similar industries is projected to peak in 2040.
  • Connect federal, state, regional, and local resources – The U.S. Economic Development Administration emphasizes a regional strategy in the guidelines for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy and through the grant application process for its various programs.

Increase economic diversity – Carbon and Emery are among the least economically diverse counties in the state. Projected industry growth through 2060 includes higher concentrations of tourism-related employment in accommodations and food services, and in arts, entertainment, and recreation.  There is additional opportunity in attracting remote workers to the region and investing in energy research and technology and manufacturing.

“Economic opportunities in the region revolve around people,” said Geri Gamber, Executive Director of the Southeastern Utah Association of Local Governments. “The people in the region are resourceful and resilient. When we have partnerships included, such as Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute our resiliency only increases.”

“Utah’s Coal Country is a lot like the other 150 coal communities scattered around the country,” said Castle Dale City Mayor Danny Van Wagoner. “We have a vision to diversify and invest in a bright future for our children and grandchildren.”

The full report is now available online.




The Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute serves Utah by preparing economic, demographic, and public policy research that helps the state prosper. We are Utah’s demographic experts, leaders on the Utah economy, and specialists on public policy and survey research. We are an honest broker of INFORMED RESEARCH, which guides INFORMED DISCUSSIONS, and leads to INFORMED DECISIONS™. For more information, please visit or call 801-587-3717.



The Eccles School is synonymous with ‘doing.’ The Eccles experience provides a world-class business education with a unique, entrepreneurial focus on real-world scenarios where students put what they learn into practice long before graduation. Founded in 1917 and educating more than 6,000 students annually, the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business offers nine undergraduate majors, four MBAs, eight other graduate programs, a Ph.D. in seven areas and executive education curricula. The School is also home to 12 institutes, centers, and initiatives, which deliver academic research and support an ecosystem of entrepreneurship and innovation. For more information, visit or call 801-581-7676

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