July 1, 2012

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Utah’s Tech Industry is Booming

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Article

Utah’s Tech Industry is Booming

Sarah Ryther Francom

July 1, 2012

Utah’s technology industry is critical to the state’s economy. Many, in fact, claim that the tech industry was vital to the state’s relative economic health during the Great Recession. Today the industry, which encompasses IT, life sciences and clean tech, represents 14.3 percent of the state’s total payroll and accounts for more than 100,000 high-wage jobs, according to the Utah Technology Council (UTC). And its overall economic impact is nearly $7 billion.

In this issue of Utah Business, we hear from a collection of the state’s top tech leaders who discuss the industry’s strengths, weaknesses and trends. While the industry has had many successes in recent years, the group agrees that there’s still much to accomplish. Read their discussion beginning on page 105.

After the roundtable discussion, I sat down with Richard Nelson, founder and CEO of the Utah Technology Council, to discuss the industry’s growing ecosystem. According to Nelson, the industry has much to celebrate. He explains that in recent years, Utah’s tech community has grown from a collection of simmering startups to a vigorous, high-growth tech hub. “We are no longer a state of startups. We have matured into a place where companies can grow,” he says, citing the success of companies like Omniture, Skullcandy, Fusion-io and Mozy.

Nelson says the state’s tech industry maturation is especially impressive considering it happened at a time when many tech companies around the nation were hunkering down. “Utah’s technology industry emerged stronger after the recession,” Nelson says, pointing to the industry’s employment numbers as an example of its resilience and strength. According to the UTC, IT employment grew an average of 2.22 percent from 2007 to 2010. The national average during that timeframe was -1.25 percent. Employment growth in the life science sector was 2.9 percent, while the national average was 0.66 percent. The relatively new clean tech sector didn’t fare as well as IT and life sciences, with employment growth at -0.5 percent, but it was still well above the national average of -4.97 percent.

Nelson says these numbers demonstrate Utah’s emergence as one of the nation’s next great tech leaders. “Overall, we were No. 1 at 1.7 percent growth for the three sectors for the Western region versus the national average job loss of -2.2 percent.”

While there is much to celebrate, Nelson says business leaders and policy makers should focus on ways to ensure the momentum continues well into the future. He says education—specifically science and math at the K–12 level—is critical to Utah becoming a tech giant on a national and international scale. “The only way to fuel growth is through STEM education,” he says.

Nelson adds that capital is an ongoing issue that desperately needs improving, though he applauds advances made with the Utah Fund of Funds (find more information about the Fund of Funds program on page 76). He especially emphasizes the need for more seed funding, and suggests the state consider offering tax credits to such investors. “You can’t attract talent without capital,” he says.

While it’s evident that Utah’s tech industry has made giant strides in recent years, what’s even more exciting are the opportunities these successes pose for the industry and the state. Through thoughtful leadership and strategic improvement in areas like education and funding, the state’s potential to become a national and international tech giant seems well within reach.

From the Editor

Sarah Ryther Francom

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