Duchesne County, Utah, was in the economic doldrums in the 1990s. But then a pair of former Duchesne High School basketball stars, who also happened to work for the local electric co-op, went into action.
Grant Earl, CEO of Moon Lake Electric Association, was the center on the team and Operations Manager Russell Cowan was a guard.
“We decided we should step up,” Earl recalled in the March 2004 issue of RE Magazine.
They worked together and with other local leaders to revitalize the small Utah State University campus in Roosevelt, where the co-op has its headquarters; to expand the small hospital in town; and to organize a think tank of local CEOs to promote economic development.
Earl’s simple philosophy guided everything the two men did.
“We want to improve our community. We want to leave it better than we found it.”
The Utah State campus was undersized, under-attended, understaffed and underfunded – but much needed.
“The university is a real economic benefit to the community,” Earl said. “It’s one of the few institutions bringing people in. We export so much of our talent, it’s important to bring people in.”
After Earl and Cowan and their team were done, there was a sprawling new campus center building, enrollment had nearly doubled to 1,750, and there were 25 locally based faculty members. Before, instructors were flown in from the university’s main campus in Logan.
Moon Lake Electric kicked off an informal building fund campaign with a check for $100,000.
“It blew me away,” said Dennis Garner, director of student services. The co-op “set the bar … others stepped up to match it.”
Cowan told the story of how his boss, a modest man who resisted taking credit, engaged the co-op’s board of directors.
“It was a lot of money. But Grant asked an important question that day. I’ll always remember it. He asked the board, ‘How many of you have a college education?’ I don’t think anybody raised their hand. Then he asked, ‘How many of you want your grandson to have one?’”
Earl served six years on the board of Duchesne County Hospital (now Uintah Basin Medical Center) before passing it off to Cowan, who was chairman in 2004. During those years, the hospital added more beds and services and its annual budget grew five-fold to $50 million. Much of that money was circulated locally.
The hospital had 22 doctors and more than 350 employees in a town with a population of 4,500 and owned some the most advanced diagnostic equipment in the state.
Hospital CEO Brad LeBaron thanked the co-op for lending “their experience and talent” to the hospital.
“There isn’t a meeting involving this community’s growth and development that won’t have Moon Lake people sitting at the table,” he said.
Those meetings got Cowan thinking about something more formal, more regular: a think tank made up of local CEOs.
“I thought it might help if we were talking regularly to see how we can help each other.”
Earl, LeBaron and City Manager Brad Hancock were among the first to join. And Moon Lake Electric put up $1,000 a month for three years to sustain the group. But as Hancock noted, the co-op’s assistance ran deeper than dollars.
“They helped us gain the experience and credibility we needed to go put into the marketplace and say, ‘This is a place worth coming to.’”