July 31, 2013

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Industry Leaders Discuss Strengths, Weaknesses of Utah County Economy

Rachel Madison

July 31, 2013

A group of about 20 business leaders from Utah County met Tuesday morning during a Utah Business roundtable to discuss the strengths and weaknesses that have made the county’s economic outlook what it is today.

Randy Scott, vice president of marketing at MultiLing, said both a strength and weakness of Utah County is the extreme entrepreneurialism in the area.

“When people graduate from college, they oftentimes start their own business,” he said. “They are just coming out of college and have fantastic ideas, so they don’t join the workforce. They start their own company. That is a strength and weakness at the same time.”

Mike Alder, technology transfer director at BYU, said one problem new startups run into is that there’s not enough capital available for all of them. In addition, Brandon Fugal, executive vice president at Coldwell Banker Commercial, said because the county has a lot of startup ventures, many times a larger company will come in and buy it, but then decide to take them out of Utah altogether. He hopes more large companies are deciding to stay in Utah County.

“Utah is a bargain compared to other places,” he said. “We want to continue to tap into the entrepreneurial environment. We’ve got a friendly state for incentives through the governor’s office and the [Economic Development Corporation of Utah].”

Fugal said another strength Utah County has lies in its amount of educational opportunities.

“BYU and Utah Valley University are the perfect bookends to the Utah Valley,” he said. “With BYU on the east side and UVU on the west, we have the makings of a mainstream institutional corridor.”

But Stan Lockhart, manager at IM Flash Technologies, said while his company has a trained and qualified workforce now, he is concerned for the future. He hopes more students in secondary education will have the chance to learn about science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.

“Kids have no idea what opportunities are available to them until they get into college,” he said. “We’ve got to change that.”

Lockhart said another Utah County strength is its culture. His company receives offers frequently to move out of state or the country, but it stays because Utah has a business-friendly environment. Scott said the fact that 77 percent of people in Utah County speak a second language also makes the county look more desirable to incoming and current companies.

Utah County also has a lot to offer entertainment wise, said John Garfield, general manager at Provo Marriott. Within a three-block radius of the hotel, Garfield said there are 50 non-chain restaurants. He said most people are also shocked to learn that Provo has a diverse music scene and alcoholic beverages are served right in the hotel.

Businesses often don’t know these things about Utah County because the county is defined by Salt Lake County, said Russ Fotheringham, Utah County economic development manager for EDCU. Many of the business leaders also agreed that there is a huge bias among businesses from Salt Lake County to Utah County.

“We don’t want to be defined by Salt Lake anymore,” Fotheringham said.

Fotheringham said the county should work toward a branding program for the area that will highlight the county’s strengths and what it has to offer to potential and current businesses.

Lockhart said overall, Utah County has faced many larger challenges in the past and is doing a lot better now than it was a decade ago.

“The challenges were much greater than what we’re facing today,” he said. “We were just trying to brand Utah 10 years ago. We do have real challenges now, but they’re nowhere close to what they were.”

The Utah County economic roundtable will appear in the September issue of Utah Business magazine.

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