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Meet one of the managers of the state purse strings

Article Published 12/14/2016
This story is sponsored by the Utah League of Cities and Towns.

Each holiday season, Utah households, and businesses alike are filled with the robust reds, whites, and pinks of poinsettias. Many of the plants in our homes were grown in a Layton greenhouse.

J&J Garden Center is the largest nursery in the state, spanning 130 acres in Davis County. Its founder, Jerry Stevenson, worked with his brother to turn what began as a family farm in pioneer times to a hugely successful business. Stevenson says, "It's been a great place to live, it's been a great place to grow up. We're definitely planted in this community."

Yet with all the responsibility at the nursery, Stevenson also serves his community and has done so for decades. It began in the 1970s. According to Stevenson, "A mayor asked me if I'd be interested in serving on the planning commission. After I did that for two years and took the heat of what was going on and what goes on there I decided I could take the heat of being an elected official and I ran for office."

He later became mayor of Layton, and served for 12 years. "There's a lot of satisfaction in building a business and watching it grow, but I think you have that same satisfaction building a city or watching a city be built and helping in the construction of it."

When he left the mayor's office, he thought his political career was over but got a call from the Governor that set his community service back in motion on a state level.

From chairing Envision Utah, to serving on the Board of Trustees at Weber State University, he had the opportunity to move into the legislature. Now, approaching his 8th session with the Utah State Senate, he's the newly nominated Chair of Appropriations.

"I think you get it in your blood," says the Chairman. "I think you get used to being at the table where the decisions are made."

Stevenson has learned a very common sense approach and shares personal anecdotes from the farm to the capitol such as a lesson his father taught him when, as a young boy, he planted hundreds of trees on this farm and only 18 survived. He was ready to throw in the towel but his dad gave him advice he often thinks about. "Sometimes the best place to get your money back is where you've lost it from. Now look at what I've got."

He's learned about representing a community at the height of controversy. "We need to be very tolerant of one another and we need to think through things sometimes before we really act."

He knows the value of supporting government at the level closest to the people, explaining, "We need to make sure communities have the final say because that's where that quality of life issue comes from. But we've got a great process. If we want to make those changes we have a system that airs that well. I'm just pleased to be part of it."

As he grows and harvests the plants and trees on this island of Layton farmland, his city grows as well. He realizes his land may one day be covered with rooftops versus trees. But in the meantime, he is passionate about what he does, in business and in his community service.

"I really like what I do. I enjoy the politics, I enjoy the farm. I don't think I'll ever retire. I don't think I have any desire to retire."