National Geographic : 1996 Jan
WO HUNDRED AND FIFTY MILES south west of Moab, in the real estate boom ville of St. George, the growing crowds make most locals anything but sad. Re tirees throughout the U. S. are deciding that southwest Utah-with its dramatic scenery, warm sunshine, and low cost of liv ing-is the ideal place to settle. Since 1970, when St. George had only 7,097 people, the population has more than quintupled to 37,500. Last year the number of building permits issued was eight times that of 1980, and there are boosters who estimate that 700,000 people may live in St. George by the year 2030. "It's that Sunbelt phenomenon," says Bob Nicholson, community development director for St. George. "People are learning that they don't have to be in California to live well." As Nicholson says this, he's bent over his desk in City Hall. On the desk is a map, a grid of the city's streets, and Nicholson is in the midst of trying to rework traffic patterns. Beyond him, outside his office windows, cars are gridlocked in the March afternoon's shim mery heat. Nicholson stands and looks out toward the red-rock mountains in the distance. "We're Utah:Land of Promise, Kingdom of Stone All eyes scan for defects in the quality-control lab of Megahertz, a Salt Lake City modem manufacturer. Clustered on the Wasatch Front,Utah's 1,700 high-tech companies draw newcomers by the thousands. What's the attraction? Says Megahertz president Spencer Kirk: "Plenty ofjobs, low crime, solid values, and a great view." in a desert," he says, "so, obviously, water will be the limiting factor in how many people can live here. But we've got enough water for at least another 10 or 15 years of growth. Which means," he turns back to his desk and slaps a hand down on the map, "managing growth and traffic are foremost in my mind." It is no small task. Each morning at sunrise the streets of St. George fill with cars, and nothing goes well. It takes 20 minutes to make the four- or five-mile drive across town, and at those edges of St. George where streets meet the desert, construction equipment whips up tall clouds of red dust. The houses go in as fast as the stucco can dry. "It's money lust that's got everybody here working now," says Steven Kirkland, a resi dent of St. George for more than 50 years.