March 11, 2017

Innovation Plaza

Continuing Entrepreneurialism in Southern Utah

Recently, Dixie State University announced the creation of Innovation Plaza in the building previously known as East Elementary. The building will house academic programs in the original west wing including a new technology focused secondary school. The “newer” east wing will take advantage of the high ceilings and open floor plan to house a combination of maker spaces. The maker and design movement encourages experimentation with frequent opportunities for feedback. A new center for technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship (TIE) has been created to support the progression of ideas to companies. In short, the space will be designed to bring innovators into a common space that encourages serendipitous connections between like-minded thinkers.

The early inhabitants of this area were innovators. The Virgin River Anasazi left dwelling structures that took advantage of the winter sun from the south and native materials to cool during the summer. Later, the Paiutes hunted and grew corn, wheat, and melons along the river beds. Due to frequent flooding, the Paiutes developed irrigation to grow crops in the higher areas.

In 1857-1858, the LDS Church set up experimental farms in the St. George Valley. In 1861, 309 families were sent from the Wasatch Front for the purpose of raising cotton. In the desert climate, irrigation was required to water the arid soil. After many attempts to dam the Virgin River, the Washington Field Canal Company was incorporated in 1875. On December 7, 1889 the largest flood in the history of Washington County destroyed the dam and some of the canal. Despite being insolvent, the Canal Company rebuilt the dam and canal using modern technology, including a spillway to regulate the variation in the river flow. That dam and canal system served the agriculture community until 2005, when it was buried in underground culverts.

Today, St. George and the surrounding area benefits from the warm winters and proximity to five national parks. Last year, Zion National Park alone welcomed nearly four million visitors. This has led to a thriving service and recreation-based industry that supports nearly 150,000 residents of Washington County. Despite this remarkable growth, St. George was recently ranked as having the second lowest wages in U.S. by Pew Research[1]. Part of the problem is the need to attract and provide a skilled labor force for prospective employers. We also need to encourage the type of innovation that builds companies that require skilled labor.

Innovation Plaza is meant to be more than a place to innovate, design, and create; it will be a place to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit. Entrepreneurial education is more than just teaching about business start-ups. It is about thinking differently. It is about recognizing systems and processes in our daily lives that can be improved. For much of human history, mankind has subsisted on about $2 a day in today’s dollars, and has had a life expectancy of less than 40-years. The innovation movement of the last 200 years has created the lifestyle and comforts we enjoy today. The ancient inhabitants of Washington County were innovators out of survival. Today’s innovators aren’t pressured by the basic necessities, but have a drive to change their environments for the better. In the coming months, the community will be invited to Innovation Plaza. We hope you will bring your ideas. We hope you will come to dream of how we can make this beautiful place we live even better.

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/02/where-wages-are-worth-the-most-and-least-in-the-u-s/

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