The ‘Secret Sauce’ in Utah’s Economic Prowess

Gaylen Webb

March 1, 2011

Much has changed on Utah’s economic landscape since Governor Gary R. Herbert tapped Spencer P. Eccles to run the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) and execute his economic development plan.

During that time Utah vaulted to the top of Forbes’s list as the “Best State for Business and Careers.” Adobe decided to build a technology campus and Twitter announced it would locate a data center here. ATK announced it would build a new, state-of-the-art advanced composites manufacturing facility in Clearfield, Utah. The Air Force-private sector partnership broke ground on Falcon Hill an aerospace research park west of Hill Air Force Base.

Ask about the plan for State economic development and Eccles will say it is simple: achieve Governor Herbert’s vision that “Utah will lead the nation as the best performing economy and be recognized as a premier global business destination.” Under Eccles’ leadership GOED has internalized that vision and made it a mantra. “We live it, we eat it, we breathe it and we dream it.” The key to Utah’s economic success, according to Eccles, is its “secret sauce” – the secret ingredient in an economic development recipe that is propelling Utah toward the premier global business destination Governor Herbert envisions.

Just what is this “secret sauce?” It is an unprecedented level of partnerships connecting leaders from the state, county and city governments with economic developers, industry associations, educational institutions and business organizations to build the Utah economy by maintaining a focus on four key objectives:

1. Strengthen and grow existing Utah businesses, both urban and rural.

2. Increase innovation, entrepreneurship and investment.

3. Increase national and international business.

4. Prioritize education to develop the workforce of the future.

Governor Herbert addressed objective number one in his State of the State when he called upon State government leaders to review all business regulations to ensure they are both necessary and business-friendly. “Over-burdensome business regulations are just as bad as high taxes,” Eccles explains. “While thoughtful regulation can help stabilize the business environment and keep it predictable, the outcome of the review will be to minimize government interference as much as is reasonable, so Utah businesses can flourish.”

Other efforts involve using technology to enhance business success and working with local government leaders as they make strategic decisions about how to best apply limited economic, workforce and community development resources to cultivate competitiveness among businesses within their communities.

Eccles and his team are in the process of working with 100 of Utah’s premier companies to identify opportunities for expansion. GOED regularly conducts targeted industry roundtables with stakeholders and partners to discuss industry sector needs and opportunities. These efforts have shown great success in job creation and recruitment of key companies, which were identified by groups of existing Utah businesses as important additions to their industry sectors.

Janicki Industries is an example of a company now building in Utah, which was identified by the composite manufacturing companies in Utah as an important addition needed for our the State’s composite industry. In partnership with the State, the composite manufacturing companies helped recruit Janicki to Utah.

Objective number two to increase innovation, entrepreneurship and investment in Utah is well underway. Utah State University with the assistance of a key GOED partner, the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative, just completed construction of a world-class advanced research building and a sister facility is now under construction at University of Utah. These two facilities alone amount to more than $200 million of investment by the State. With USTAR’s help, the State will continue to foster high-powered research and commercialization collaborations by expanding the number of world-class innovators recruited to Utah.

GOED works in partnership with many different angel, venture capital and investment banking groups and the State has invested substantial resources through the Utah Fund of Funds to encourage the investment of venture capital in Utah companies. Meanwhile, the legislature and State leaders are focused on keeping government fiscally responsible, business-friendly and predictable so that businesses will feel safe in making capital investments here. Key efforts include keeping a balanced budget, maintaining the state’s AAA bond rating and keeping taxes among the lowest in the nation.

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