Innovation and entrepreneurship are thriving in the Hurricane Valley and the Zion Canyon Corridor despite the hardships of building a startup business in this more rural area of Southern Utah.
“It’s an up-and-coming community,” said Bryce King, the president of the Hurricane Valley Chamber of Commerce. “There’s lots of people moving here; the population is growing; you have your tourist market, your local market and the St. George market. There’s a lot of businesses starting up in Hurricane that people may not think about.”
For three recent startup business owners, building their companies in the Hurricane Valley was based on one simple reason — they live there.
“There were no bakeries around here besides Lin’s and Farmer’s Market,” said Cory Martin, the owner of Muddy Bees Bakery in Hurricane. “We did all this out of our house, for three or four years, then last July we moved (into a store front) and now we’re just growing every day. We live here, and we love the place, the people here support us, so we figured we’d stay here.”
Jason Hall and his brothers are building their business, Underground Storage Solutions, a company that builds concrete-covered safes that rise up out of garage floors, for the exact same reason.
“We’ve lived here all our lives,” Hall said. “We have a landscaping business, and we were brainstorming on doing some other business, and we came up with the safe idea. In Europe, they do a lot of car lifts and that kind of gave us the idea. We designed everything in our office and did all the building out right here.”
Andy Green’s moment of inspiration struck while he and business partner and life-long friend Kate Starling were out walking their dogs.
“I knew I wanted to do something with dogs, but I didn’t know what,” Green said. “We were complaining about not having a good way to give the dogs water and the idea was born.”
Green’s startup, Pupwerks, funded in part by an online crowdfunding effort, makes molded dog bowls that are just the right size to adhere to the bottom of a water bottle.
Green’s choice to build Pupwerks in Rockville was based on a love of living in the area. “There’s great mountain biking and hiking, and there’s plenty of ways to get into the backcountry and find some solitude,” he said. “It’s a compromise for sure, but it’s definitely a lifestyle choice.”
King echoed those ideas when he explained why he thinks Hurricane is so attractive to startups.
“Hurricane’s a great place to live,” he said. “It’s a small town community; it has an old Hurricane town feel but with up and coming trends.”
That’s not to say that starting up a business far away from a major metropolitan area or even the small city atmosphere of St. George comes without challenges. Finding a way to get the word out and making connections with suppliers and potential business partners are just two of the challenges.
“Sourcing is probably the biggest challenge,” Green said. “But surprisingly, we got pretty lucky in terms or our prototype and manufacturing.
Green said they managed to find a CAD designer in St. George, who in turn led them to a local 3-D printer and then on to Roger Waters, another local business owner who has the equipment they needed to produce the dog bowls they wanted to build.
“I was really skeptical that we would find someone locally, but Kate said ‘someone’s got a piece of equipment in their garage’ and she was right. We found a guy in Leeds, of all places. Just 10 miles down the road is a guy with state of the art thermoplastic injection molding equipment,” Green said. “There are difficulties to being in a rural area, but the community is small enough that word of mouth and networking is really the way to go.”
Hall said they have faced some issues with finding raw materials but that the biggest challenge has been getting the word out about their product.
“We’re not really in a high-end area, but our product is really a high-end product,” Hall said. “Not much of our business has been in Southern Utah; it’s out of state, like Dallas or Chicago.”
While Hall said they had some luck showing their underground safes at trade and gun shows, the St. George Area Parade of Homes was the best place they found so far to showcase their product.
“We pushed really hard to get in there because it’s exposure we couldn’t get anywhere else,” Hall said. “We did really well because we were able to show our product installed.”
The secrecy most of Hall’s customer’s desire when it comes to their safes also makes advertising their product difficult.
Hall explained that after designing and building the safes in Hurricane they use a trailer to haul equipment to their customer’s home, drop it off and load it into the garage. They then install the safes and pour new concrete on top with the garage doors down so not even the neighbors will know what’s being built into the floor.
“It’s a very secretive thing,” Hall said. “People aren’t going to tell their friends, so finding good advertising has been a tough thing. Production-wise, we’ve really gotten that down; it’s spreading our name out there in the world.”
King attributes at least some of the difficulty businesses in the Hurricane Valley face when it comes to getting the word out about their product to the lack of advertising options int he area.
“We don’t necessarily have the power of a newspaper out here,” King said. “The newspaper is old school, but it still gets the word out, and we don’t have that local feel that gets the word out. I think if that would come back to Hurricane — it was a huge boost when we had it, and it would be good to get it here again. Getting recognized in a small town is tough if you don’t have help from the city and the chamber.”
For Martin and Muddy Bees, facing the slow season of the tourism industry is another challenge.
“I bake a lot of bread for restaurants here and in Springdale, and Springdale is a tourism based community, so we have the ups and downs there,” Martin said. “We really depend on the locals to keep us up and running.”
Support from the local community is something that Martin says has, so far, never been in short supply.
“Hurricane has been good to us, the whole valley,” Martin said. “One of the most common things I hear throughout the day from customers is them saying they want to support local businesses. This all started from a dream, it’s grown from that, and we can’t thank the community enough for their support.”
“Our attitude is you can’t really complain about the economy if you’re not supporting it,” Green added. “We know the UPS guy, we know the FedEx guy, and these are people we see every day, so there’s a greater sense of community involvement rather than just trying to make a buck. The people in the community know me, and they know Kate, and they’re some of our best ambassadors and sales agents. That makes up for any of the other potential trade offs.”