St. George is angling to become the next tech hub
Isaac Barlow, the visionary behind Tech Ridge, describes the development crowning St. George as a city within a city on top of a hill.
On a beautiful day in St. George, Barlow led me on a walking tour of the ridge. According to Barlow, the mixed-use development will have offices, residential living space, restaurants, a grocery store, a dog park, a hotel, a chair lift, an adventure park, a zipline, a gym, hiking trails, and a brew pub. He hopes it will appeal to people who want to be a part of the action, and for locals and visitors who want things to do, day or night.
As for people who choose to live there, Tech Ridge anticipates many of its residents will be working from home, thus in need of a professional office in their residence. So, they are designing many of their condos and apartments to facilitate that demand with comfortable office dens and high-speed internet.
Attracting top talent to St. George
Located at the historic St. George airport, Tech Ridge sits on top of a mesa with breathtaking views of the St. George Valley. There will be 60 acres of parks, trails, and open space. Thirty of those acres will be a rim park and trail allowing people to walk or run the perimeter of the mesa while enjoying the best views in St. George, Barlow explained.
Barlow, a Salt Lake City native, grew up in the construction industry, and like many who relocate to St. George, he did so for a climate change. When he was younger, his family would spend spring break in St. George, so it was a place he visited regularly. He ended up moving his excavation business down to St. George in the mid-2000s.
At the time, Barlow was trying to grow his company, busybusy a tech startup focusing on excavation and heavy equipment but it was very difficult to recruit and retain top talent, so he put himself in the shoes of his recruits: If you are top talent, do you want to live in St. George? If it doesn’t work out at busybusy, where do you go? Do you have to pick up your family and move because there aren’t enough tech companies in Southern Utah?
Like many brilliant ideas, this problem led to an incredible solution: Tech Ridge.
As it turns out, the city, leadership at Dixie Tech, and local educators had their own challenges with lower wages in Washington County and a short supply of tech jobs for graduates. Some of them, including the mayor, wanted to do more than sell the land to the highest bidder; they wanted to create a tech center on the site of the original St. George Municipal Airport, and Barlow thought, “Why not do it together?”
The purpose of Tech Ridge is to recruit top talent to St. George, Barlow explained, but it solves more than that. The development will help Dixie Tech and Dixie State University keep the talent they churn out. The goal, Barlow says, is to create a place that is all about the experience.
St. George has had a robust tech community for many years but in the past, employees have worked out of basements, garages, strip malls, etc. “Tech Ridge creates a place to grow, but more importantly, it is a statement that St. George is not only a great place to recreate, it is also a great place to grow a business,” says Kyle S. Wells, PhD, dean of the Dixie State University College of Business at the Attwood Innovation Plaza at DSU.
Shirlayne Quayle, the director of economic development and housing for St. George, agrees. She says she hopes the development will revitalize the community. “Innovations and new companies will sprout from this energy center and their impact will radiate well beyond the edges of the mesa,” she says. “Integrated into this dynamic are the public spaces, retail, and recreational amenities at Tech Ridge that will draw residents and visitors alike. And new recreation and tourism options will play a supporting role in attracting diverse populations that will strengthen the fabric of our city.”
The city hopes increased tax revenue from Tech Ridge activities will improve their ability to further invest in public spaces, infrastructure, as well as programs and initiatives that will make St. George a destination for talent.
“World-class experiential learning will skyrocket for K-12, technical, and higher education students, who will have an unprecedented opportunity to stay in St. George to build their careers should they choose,” Quayle says. “Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Tech Ridge is that it helps our region retain our most valuable asset: our creative, talented kids.”
Dr. Eric Pedersen is the dean of the college of science, engineering, and technology at Dixie State University and he’s excited about what the development could mean for his students. He showed me the university’s brand-new science, engineering, and technology building that’s under construction; he also discussed the school’s partnerships with the local tech community. Pedersen passionately spoke of how Tech Ridge will provide DSU and Dixie Tech students with more jobs, economic opportunities, and competitive salaries.
When I met with Mayor Jon Pike, he explained how transforming the old airport to a tech center was intentional. “For 25 years, the city has been working to diversify our economy,” he says. “Tech Ridge is one of the cogs in the machine that will help us do that. We’re investing in this property by turning it to companies that can pay higher wages,” he said.
Tech companies are moving in
Ryan Wedig, CEO of PrinterLogic, which broke ground on its new headquarters at Tech Ridge in May, says Tech Ridge is more than just a scenic place for new office buildings. “It’s a signal to the world that St. George is a place that can support smart growth. When you create spaces where engineers, entrepreneurs, and creative thinkers can all get together, they find ways to solve problems. That’s how a tech community grows and thrives, and that’s what Tech Ridge is all about,” he says.
Clint Reid, founder and CEO of Zonos, says that he is moving his company to Tech Ridge because it’s the final “experience” piece of the puzzle that Zonos must deliver to current and future team members. Today, people want to work at Zonos because of their industry appeal, culture, benefits, and competitive pay, he says, and because they’re in Southern Utah.
“The experience of Southern Utah helps; however if we don’t have the entire package of live, work, and play, we will miss on delivering the future of work,” Reid says. “Tech Ridge, and the environment it will provide, delivers an experience you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere in the country and even the world. More importantly, Southern Utah won’t have to export as many young talented workers that currently leave for Northern Utah or other areas of the country to find the right job opportunities.”
Airborne ECS will take the third major office building in the Tech Ridge Office Park, joining Printer Logic and the SKYVIEW Building. Airborne ECS invests in leading-edge, disruptive tech that is the future of thermal management. Brian McCann, Airborne ECS CEO, says that the company decided to move to Tech Ridge because it offers so many things they absolutely love. For one, he said, St. George is such a unique place, and no other business park in town highlights St. George like Tech Ridge will.
“We feel like the city is just being discovered by a lot of people,” McCann says. “In some ways, St. George’s growth has been limited by its opportunities for job growth and it’s still one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. For us, the biggest aerospace companies in the world will be visiting us, and we have to be honest in admitting St. George does not have the traditional aerospace infrastructure other locations offer. We need to impress them by being different.”
The direct and indirect benefits will be significant, says McCann. Airborne ECS hopes to be a founding partner in a movement that could take St. George to another level as a destination spot for legitimate tech companies and influence the community, especially young people in some very positive ways, he says.
St. George could be the next Silicon Slopes
Dave Elkington, founder, chairman, and CEO of Xant, and a cofounder of Silicon Slopes; believes that St. George is in a transition point. “Every time a generation of tech companies develops, it brings talent,” he says. “You recruit people in and you train people within a region. They raise venture money or some kind of external capital―that’s a huge boost on a local economy because that capital in tech companies, 80-90 percent of it, goes into employee salaries. That drives up the local economy’s salary wage, so with each generation of tech companies, that happens.
“When they see an exit, IPO, or private equity, oftentimes the founders and employees take that money and start another generation company. Those bring money and talent, and it spawns off or initiates several other startup and technology companies. Now, we’re seeing the same thing emerge in St. George; Tech Ridge represents a geographic representation of this industry that’s emerging. This is amazing news for the community there and I think this is a signal that there’s a lot of growth and opportunity that I would anticipate in this greater St. George Area.”
Kelle Stephens agrees. As the president of Dixie Tech, she thinks that when Tech Ridge “pops” it will have the greatest impact on the economy of Southern Utah since the advent of air conditioning. Companies who locate at Tech Ridge will provide opportunities for students to go from college right into the workplace, maintaining an environment that will continue to feed their innovative genius while providing them a handsome living, she says.
“Dreams will fuel the Washington County economy as developments in technology take future realities beyond our wildest current imaginations,” she says. “The tech college campus was designed and built to convey a message of excellence and innovation to students, employers, and the community at large. Together, Dixie Tech and Tech Ridge look to the future with anticipation to see the plateau develop into a bustling center for learning, high tech jobs, and innovation.”