Located near the borders of the two fastest growing states in the nation over the past decade, growth seems imminent for Evanston and Uinta County, Wyoming.
Evanston sits along Interstate 80 in Wyoming's southwest corner not far from where the high desert melds into the ski resort communities in Utah's Wasatch Mountains. Utah has grown by nearly 24% since 2010 to 3.4 million residents.
About 100 miles north of Evanston, Highway 30 crosses west into the agriculture-rich Bear Lake Valley in the southeast corner of Idaho, which grew by nearly 23% over the same period to 1.9 million people.
About 90 miles from Salt Lake City, a metropolitan area with an international airport, Evanston and Uinta County officials say they are starting to see spillover growth.
Rocco O'Neill, Evanston community and economic development director, told Cowboy State Daily that business in the city's downtown is brisk and young families from Utah are beginning to shop and buy for homes in the area.
And like many other Wyoming communities, they are seeing growth from retirees looking for better tax rates and more affordable real estate.
"Our sales tax numbers have never been better," O'Neill said. "Money is being spent in the community and the downtown businesses have never been busier."
Uinta County Planning and Development Department head Gary Welling said it's been an average year for subdivision applications in the county.
Land clearing is underway on a large parcel of land and there's talk about whether it could be construction worker housing for the Natrium nuclear reactor project planned about 50 miles away in neighboring Lincoln County, near Kemmerer.
"In some ways we are almost too close to the Wasatch Front," Welling said. "People can come and go fairly easily and we experience a lot of outgoing money because Utah has more places to shop."
Welling added that Utah pilots have recently relocated several airplanes to the Evanston/Uinta County Burns Field and hangar space there is filling up.
Expansion of the Genesis Alkali soda ash plant near Granger is underway, and a Salt Lake City brewing company is preparing to relocate into the Evanston Roundhouse, a building built by Union Pacific in 1912 that has been converted into a community center.
Evanston Downs Sees Record Year
Frank Lamb, government affairs director for Evanston Downs, told Cowboy State Daily the horse racing venue just wrapped up its best year ever for putting fans in bleachers and the amount of money those fans wagered.
Horse racing fans averaged 1,500 per day during 20 days of racing this season, which ended Aug. 6, Lamb said. On the final day there were 2,500 fans who wagered $180,000. The 2023 closing day at Wyoming Downs set another record by hosting the richest horse race ever held in Wyoming with a $200,400 payout.
Wyoming Downs Event Coordinator Judy Horton said horse racing fans, about 75% of whom come from Utah, help the local economy.
"The restaurants and hotels fill up for our events and the people we bring in spend a lot of money in the community," she said.
Evanston's municipal sewer and water systems were built in the 1980s to handle a population of 60,000 people and the city only has about 12,000.
There are 61 homes on the market in Uinta County with an average price of about $300,000. There are a few custom home builders but no large home building contractors located in the area. Welling said they aren't seeing demand for large housing projects yet.
"Interest rates have people a little bit scared," said Welling. "But retirees moving here from California and other states have the free capital and aren't afraid to spend $500,000 or more on a home."
Checkerboarding, where land ownership is intermingled between two or more owners is a concern for planners at both the city and county level.
O'Neill said people bought land there as an investment but have no intention of ever selling or developing. That makes it difficult for planners to work around because it restricts arterial infrastructure like roads and pipelines.
"I think the biggest challenge we have is with absentee landowners," he said. "We can't get ahold of them and these properties can become an eyesore in the middle of a business district or something of that nature."
Tourism and health care power Uinta County's economy. Earlier this year, Evanston Regional Hospital was named one of the top 20 rural and community hospitals in the country based on inpatient market share, outpatient market share, quality, outcomes, patient perspective, cost, charge, and finance.
There is a cluster of surgical centers, dentists and other providers located near the hospital.
Like many parts of Wyoming, tourism is a strong economic driver in Uinta County. O'Neill said good hunting, fishing and wildlife watching are nearby. Uinta County also has an active group of non-profit organizations including Trout Unlimited and the Southwest Wyoming Off-Road Trails (SWOT) which is working to link dirt roads and trails throughout the region.
The Wyoming Legislature passed a bill earlier this year to allow a right of way on Interstate 80 that will link trails for motorized travel across public land in Wyoming, Idaho and Utah.
"When things shut down during the pandemic people bought side-by-sides and discovered a love for it," O'Neill said. "Wyoming is the place to be for people who enjoy that."
The craft brewing industry contributed $72.2 billion to the U.S. economy and nearly 460,000 jobs. O'Neill said Evanston's farmers market, downtown music festivals and brewfest are popular events.
Evanston's existing Brewery, Sud's Brothers, is a pub and restaurant that has been in business in the old J.C. Penney building on main street for the past 12 years.
The new brewery, Shades Brewing, is a Salt Lake City business that is relocating to Evanston because it needed additional space to meet its contractual obligations, O'Neill said.
"I gather some eye-rolls from folks in Wyoming because we get associated with Utah a lot," he said. "One of the coolest things here is that we are 60 minutes from an international airport, so we get the benefits of living in Wyoming with its low population, low tax structure and cheap housing, but we're close to a major metropolitan area."
O'Neill added that he is optimistic and there is a lot of positive sentiment in the community about the economy.
John Thompson can be reached at: John@CowboyStateDaily.com