Economic movers, shakers, and dreamers are invited to attend one or both of two gatherings focused on growth and development in Moab and the surrounding area.
The Canyonlands Business Summit, starting at 8 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 10, is a forum to discuss regional collaboration and economic development. That will be followed by the first meeting of the Grand Area Innovation Network (GAIN), a new initiative to help nascent businesses create fruitful partnerships.
The business summit will be hosted by the Hoodoo Moab (111 N. 100 West) and offers a full schedule of presentations and panels. In past years the event was called the Moab Business Summit; this year’s summit was renamed to be more inclusive of the greater area.
“We look forward to our growing partnership with San Juan County’s economic developers, and inclusion of businesses to our south for the 2020 Summit,” reads Grand County’s webpage on the event.
“Because our respective communities are relatively isolated, it makes sense to share resources, trainings, and knowledge,” said Zacharia Levine, director of the Grand County Department of Community and Economic Development, who will be speaking at the event.
“I am confident that all attendees will find a lot of value regardless of their industry sector or phase of business development,” he said.
The welcome speech will be given by Utah Representative John Curtis, with a keynote speech from Utah Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial candidate Spencer Cox. Other presentations will cover topics like rebranding, planning ahead for growth in a tourist destination, executive leadership and management, nonprofit growth, and working remotely from a rural location. Speakers include local business people and government staff as well as guests from other western towns like Jackson, Wyoming, and Park City.
“I always enjoy these business summits,” said Murice Miller, who has been to every business summit in Moab since 2015, when he was an intern at the Small Business Resource Center at the Moab extension of Utah State University.
Miller owns a small business called Moab Mall, an online marketplace where shoppers can order products with custom designs.
[Miller also contributes his talents as a photographer to the Moab Sun News. - ed.]
Miller is especially excited about the GAIN gathering after the business summit, starting at 5 p.m. at the restaurant 98 Center (98 E. Center St.).
“It’s a good collaboration tool and I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
GAIN grew out of planning discussions for the business summit, said Nara Bopp, a specialist with the Custom Fit program. The program, which funds training for Utah employees, is one of the sponsors of both events.
GAIN is aimed at people who may have ideas or skills that would fit new business, as well as people interested in mentoring or helping to fund start-up ventures.
“I have a lot of positive anticipation for this initiative and what it might foster in the way of new business formation, small business development, and new not-for-profit efforts,” said Levine.
The Feb. 10 event is intended to be the first of continuing gatherings, Bopp said.
“This network will continue more of a year-round conversation, mostly for entrepreneurs but also for anyone and everyone who wants to connect and brainstorm about other ways to develop economic gain for the community and themselves,” Bopp explained.
For Miller, that might mean finding people with the skills and the interest to support a new business concept he’s refining, called the Utah Cookie, a vegan, local-spirit treat shaped like the state of Utah. He’s found a baker to help him come up with the recipe. They just need a larger mixer to scale up production, and to spread the idea to interested buyers. He’s also interested in meeting someone with the design skills to create effective packaging.
“It’s something that could be marketed to all of Utah,” Miller said. “Different hotels could have their own unique cookie.”
He mentioned that the Moab Area Travel Council has expressed interest in the idea.
Miller has many other business ideas, but he said he’s trying to narrow his focus on the Moab Mall and the Utah Cookie. Meanwhile, he has several other jobs, including photography work for the Moab Sun News, as well as young children.
“My son and daughter both say that they want to start businesses too,” Miller said. “They’re little budding entrepreneurs.”
The GAIN concept is modeled after similar groups in other towns, like the Silicon Couloir Network in Jackson, Wyoming. The 98 Center meeting will feature three guest speakers involved with business networks, but will mostly be a casual mingling atmosphere, with one free cocktail per attendee and finger foods to snack on while traversing the room.
“It’s intended to be a little more hip and cool,” than the business summit, Bopp said, as well as more accessible.
The network is not just intended for the “young professionals” demographic, but for anyone looking to change careers, put an underutilized skill to work, or launch a new idea.
Miller is one Moabite always ready to launch a new idea.
“I love entrepreneurship,” he said. “I love the possibilities that it entails.”
He is hopeful that the GAIN gathering will be an effective learning and networking opportunity.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I’m going to be like a sponge there.”