When you think “tech leader,” Utah might not be the first state that comes to mind—but that’s about to change. Overall, Utah made more jobs in 2014 than any other state in the nation besides North Dakota (another dark horse in the running). However, the job boom in North Dakota is all about gas and oil. In Utah, the biggest push is coming from the many technology companies popping up, from local colocation service providers to app-based startups.
Dubbed “computer system design jobs” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which basically encompasses any job related to computers, Utah enjoyed a 12 percent spike in 2011 whereas every other state in the country was still reeling from the Great Recession. Today, that growth rate is even faster. Plus, science and related tech jobs in that niche are up almost ten percent.
This has led to a big problem in Utah: There’s an abundance of technical jobs, and not enough people to fill them. Luckily, the Utah-based colleges and universities are graduating highly skilled students with tech backgrounds at a fast pace. Also, there’s so much to enjoy in Utah—particularly for outdoor enthusiasts—that it’s not exactly a challenge to get qualified workers to relocate. Finally, the be-all, end-all of Silicon Valley has come to a close thanks to high income tax rates, state tax rates and cost of living. In Utah, tech experts can enjoy gorgeous scenery, a reasonable cost of living and a plethora of opportunities. Known as the “Silicon Slopes,” Utah has just become America’s tech hub.
Location is Everything
In both recruitment and colocation services, location is everything. There are over 6,600 tech companies within an hour of Salt Lake City (and growing). Utah’s tech economy is thriving, and it’s not just about the great outdoors as a business perk. The state government has worked diligently to create a “mini me” of Silicon Valley, and it’s working. This has been attempted in many places around the globe, but it rarely leads to success. What makes Utah different?
Simply taking what works in Silicon Valley and doing it here. Silicon Valley became what it is because of fantastic research universities which allowed for engineers to take their great ideas, commercialize them, get money from venture capitalists who “hang around” these universities and also some savvy entrepreneurs. No wonder Utah is one of the best places in the nation for colo services and other tech industries.
No Easy Start
However, the state began at a disadvantage. There are no big research universities that could take on the likes of Stanford. Fortunately, the University of Utah teamed up with government officials to tackle this issue. The Utah Science and Technology Research Initiative kicked off in 2006 with a $100 million investment in Utah universities. The goal? Simple: Attract the best researchers in niche areas from all over the globe. It’s been almost ten years and the plan is working. The University of Utah President David Pershing says, “We have certainly had faculty that have come in the USTAR program and have now started up small companies.” USTAR has already made more jobs than the creators dreamed of.
With USTAR creating about 25 brand new companies every year, it’s brought in venture capitalists that otherwise wouldn’t look at the state twice. However, Utah also has a long track record of success in the tech world. After all, WordPerfect started here, as did Novell. Utah is more than just a startup hotspot though, with companies like eBay boasting a presence in the state for well over 20 years. The VP in Utah, Scott Murray, says, “We have moved about 350 jobs from the Philippines back over here to Salt Lake City,” and with the great options for connectivity and relatively low commercial real estate, that trend will likely continue.
Another great perk of being in Utah? It might not be what you think: The strong presence of Mormon followers. Each year, many return from missions in need of a job and replete with knowledge of a new, lesser known language. Many of these missionaries are highly educated, but took the equivalent of a “gap year” (or more) for their faith-based mission abroad. Now that it’s time to settle down, they often want to do so at “home base.” A variety of languages is definitely a perk any tech company wants, especially in a global market.
Colocation services are incredibly popular in Utah thanks to the rich tech environment, lack of natural disasters and great connectivity. It looks like the industry has found the perfect location to grow, and others are following suit. Who knew Silicon Valley was just a suggestion—and that the real tech hub was actually land locked?