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This month, Utah Business partnered with Dentons Durham Jones Pinegar to host our first-annual roundtable event focused on Utah’s economy. Moderated by Jeffrey Jones, shareholder and director at Dentons Durham Jones Pinegar, the industry-diverse group discussed predictions for the state’s economy, company culture, brand loyalty, and more. Here are a few highlights from the event.

2022 Economic Roundtable

This month, Utah Business partnered with Dentons Durham Jones Pinegar to host our first-annual roundtable event focused on Utah’s economy. Moderated by Jeffrey Jones, shareholder and director at Dentons Durham Jones Pinegar, the industry-diverse group discussed predictions for the state’s economy, company culture, brand loyalty, and more. Here are a few highlights from the event.

This month, Utah Business partnered with Dentons Durham Jones Pinegar to host our first-annual roundtable event focused on Utah’s economy. Moderated by Jeffrey Jones, shareholder and director at Dentons Durham Jones Pinegar, the industry-diverse group discussed predictions for the state’s economy, company culture, brand loyalty, and more. Here are a few highlights from the event.

Generally, where is the economy going in the next 12-18 months?

Ramez Halteh | SVP & Private Bank Market Leader, UT & ID | KeyBank

The velocity and the pace by which interest rates have increased are pretty significant. The stock market’s taken a pretty big hit. But when you look at company earnings, which came out in Q3, those were still pretty strong. The Consumer Price Index came out, and it was better than expected, at I think 7.4 percent. The Federal Reserve said their target is 2 percent. We’ve seen a lot of capital go into treasuries—it’s the first time in a long time that we can say six-month treasuries are paying 4.5 percent. Coming out of the pandemic, most banks were up 50-60 percent in deposits, which shows how much liquidity there is in the marketplace. Now that liquidity is slowly dwindling, but not as much as you’d expect, as inflation takes its toll on it. Utah’s always been a very resilient economy. The state has set itself up very nicely, so we’re not reliant on one sector of the economy to keep us going.

Kyle Pasley | Managing Director, Real Estate | SITLA

We’re thankful that the state has diversified because it diversifies our portfolio. We foresee that the country will go into a recession, though not as deep as the previous one. We’ll go aggressively into neutral because of the strength of our economy, the strength of our workforce, and other things. We’ll just hit the neutral button and, in 12-18 months, start to come out. In real estate, we don’t have an oversupply—that makes a huge difference in coming out of a recession. There’s still a large demand for real estate, especially for housing. It’s just getting our arms around it and making it more affordable. 

Jim Bennett | Founder & Chairman | NOW CFO

I think there’s a little bit of a psychological shock to the system because we’ve had rates that are historically very, very low. At NOW CFO, we serve about 900 clients in a given week, and our clients are still looking for people. They still have business, they’re still spending, but there’s just a big question mark going into next year. I don’t think they view it as if it’s going to be a terrible year, but maybe not nearly like 2022. We think inflation’s going to take a while to tame, and that’s got to slow some things down. 

Ben Hart | Executive Director | Utah Inland Port Authority

For us, we’re looking at not just 18 or 24 months but generational opportunities. We’re seeing, in some spaces, 50 percent vacancy in downtown Salt Lake City. We’re seeing 1 percent industrial vacancy right now in a lot of parts of the state. We’re balancing a long-term public works project with the current needs of the economy, realizing that we have 16,000 acres that we have to make sure are developed in the right way. I think we’re going to be a lot bolder over the next 6-12 months in terms of what we have to offer, trying to get the best and the brightest companies into our jurisdictional area out around the airport. We’ll probably be more aggressive on the economic side, making sure that what we’re doing really fits into the Utah economic strategy. 

How does your company currently view remote work?

Ryan Jones | EVP & Chief Lending Officer | Altabank

Do you have good productivity metrics that show a job is being completed? If that’s the case, we’ve allowed certain managers to say, “Hey, this is a full-time remote job.” Largely, we’re asking most people to look at a three-two hybrid, and people seem to enjoy that. In my role, I work primarily with sales teams, and I’ve got a really good productivity metric, which is sales numbers. Pre-pandemic, I had somebody come up and talk to me about my top producer and say, “You’d be alarmed if you knew how much time they spent on the golf course.” And I said, “Well, have you seen his numbers? Maybe you should golf more.”

Chandana Haque | Executive Director | Altitude Lab

We require wet labs to do our job, so you have to be in the office to work. But we’ve found that embracing a flex attitude to this has actually resulted in much more productivity. Our scientists will come in at night and work in the lab because they can take care of their families during the day. It’s an industry where we need people in the office, but we produced a vaccine in 24 months—unheard of in our industry, despite having these kinds of remote challenges. So our industry is very much productive; we just have to think differently about how we produce and how we work together.

Elliot Smith | SVP, Finance | Lucid

We have an interesting view on remote work because the software we make actually helps enable remote work. But for Lucid specifically, we moved to be very remote-friendly. We still maintain physical offices and try and use more of a carrot approach to bringing people to the office. We offer lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and that proves popular. A lot of teams do want some in-person time and schedule it on those days. We’re also trying to bring the company together once or twice a year because we do believe in-person interactions are important.

Ramez Halteh | SVP & Private Bank Market Leader, UT & ID | KeyBank

I think Covid has broken the taboo of working from home as just showing up and not actually coming to work. What you’re hearing is, “Where can people be most productive? How can you provide quality of life for your employees so that they feel fulfilled and happy?” Fortunately, in banking, we have a lot of branches everywhere. We find that our people are forming mini pods at various locations where the branches are and where they’re closer to home. They want to be together, they want to talk about clients, and then they go out and meet with clients. But we do meet at the office down here once a week, and I think that brings the whole team together. 

How are you developing company culture in today’s climate? 

Jason Fowler | President | Air & Sea International, Inc.

Last year, for us, it was like drinking from a fire hose with imports and exports. This year has been the absolute opposite. It completely changed the landscape, but during that time, we didn’t lose a single employee. All of that was due to our company culture. Process, I think, is secondary to culture for retention and being successful. You want your people to enjoy coming to work and have that camaraderie. We try to foster that as much as we can by treating everybody with as much respect as possible.

Ryan King | CFO | Thread Wallets

We found that the culture seems to thrive when the executives and managers of the company live the culture that we want to project. We have an unlimited paid time off policy. When employees see the CEO taking vacation days or when they see me going on ski trips in the winter, people under us feel that they can, too. We’ve added fun perks that don’t actually cost us a ton of money but have been really well received. We do a Thread book club once a quarter. We read “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, Nike founder, and everyone who read it got a Nike gift card. We try to instill little things that are fun. We have a massage day once a month. We’ve noticed little things have made a big difference, and then also, practice what you preach.

Ramez Halteh | SVP & Private Bank Market Leader, UT & ID | KeyBank

Our CEO comes into town, meets with our clients, and meets with our bankers. A lot of my employees have his cell number, and they’re comfortable calling him whenever. As we look to hire people, there are givers and takers; we always hire givers. That’s the business we’re in. We’re having conversations continuously about, “What does your career path look like?” People need to see where they can be one year, two years, or three years. We say, “Here’s the path, and here’s how we’re going to get you there.” As leaders, we collaborate, and we talk about our people continuously. We’re not too afraid to let really high-producing people go to another area if it’s the right thing for them to do. It used to be that your career progression went vertically, and now we’re looking at it as more of a latticework.

Kyle Pasley | Managing Director, Real Estate | SITLA

I think our being flexible as an agency over the years has actually led to our director actually being a female now for the first time in our history. It’s enabled us to actually get women in the C-suite, which I think is vitally important. I also wanted to make a point about culture: I think we need to differentiate between societal culture and culture within our organizations. I think responding to societal culture is how we recruit. Offering benefits is what we can offer to bring people to our organizations that don’t impede our productivity. And then retention is all about the culture within finding the “why”—helping them find why they want to work there and that internal motivation that we have.

George Smith | Business Development Manager | Ralph L Wadsworth Construction

In the construction business, culture is hard—especially when it’s 30-some-odd degrees outside. We have 475 people out working this morning. We try to go out to every job every other month with a barbecue trailer, and we have built a barbecue trailer that knocks it out of the park. Guys like to eat. To each one of the projects we go to, half our ELT comes, and they intersperse with everybody else. It’s really made a big difference in our retention that they know we’re not just sitting in the building in Draper. We’re out amongst the people. There’s also the culture of giving back—we require everybody to participate in a service project twice a year. 

What methods are you or your company using to create brand loyalty? 

Ryan King | CFO | Thread Wallets

There are a lot of people who I’ve run into and just asked, “Why do you buy Thread products?” And they say, “Well, the product’s nice, but I like the people behind the brand,” or, “I like what the brand stands for.” One thing that we’re passionate about that’s gone a long way to help with brand awareness and brand loyalty is this attitude of “give as you go.” So many people have this idea, “Once I have money or have time, then I’ll give back.” We believe we need to give back as we’re growing and when we are as busy as we’ve ever been. We’ll have UVU and BYU students reach out asking if they can do a project on Thread. We often not only say yes, but also invite them to come into the office and meet us, and we help them with their project. When customers reach out about donations or fundraisers, we say, “Absolutely, we can.” Not a question. When we give back to what our customers care about or just give them time and interaction with the brand, they seem to be more loyal to us, too.

Jason Fowler | President | Air & Sea International, Inc.

Being a service-oriented company, we try to keep our finger on the pulse of the industry. And this last year, with logistics, everybody had questions. I have a lot of employees who have been in the business for years, so everybody was picking up the phone and calling us. Even though they’re with competitors, we’ve really tried to foster the idea that if you need some information, you call us. Even though you’re not maybe using our services right now, eventually that might flip because you trust us to give you the most accurate information.

Kyle Pasley | Managing Director, Real Estate | SITLA

In our case it’s been difficult—you can’t change the name of a governmental entity and rebrand to some new fancy name. What we have been trying to concentrate on is people understanding who we are and what we do. We’re the only state agency that is independent and tasked with making money. We want to make sure that people understand we’re easier to work with than the standard governmental entity for business. Why oil and gas and energy companies, real estate development companies, and agricultural companies want to do business with us is because our money goes to beneficiaries. It goes to benefit public education, higher ed institution, and medical beneficiaries. We can help drive the economy of the state as the largest non-federal landowner in the state, and that’s a story I think hasn’t been told. 

George Smith | Business Development Manager | Ralph L Wadsworth Construction

How many of you drove on the freeway today and were unimpressed that you had to go 50 miles an hour in some places, or with all the orange barricades that are out there, or that somebody flung a rock through your window? We just set the girders across half of 13th East, and the freeway was to be closed for 48 hours. You wouldn’t believe the impact that has on people, trucking companies, and everybody. We actually opened it 30 hours early and nobody ever said, “Thank you for doing that.” People associate our name with the orange cones, and they think that we’re doing nothing but taking time from them, and yet they recognize who we are. That’s our brand, to keep the roads open and keep them going.

Ben Hart | Executive Director | Utah Inland Port Authority

The brand of the port has been very confused over the last several years. I think we’ll be much more proactive on that front, trying to help educate the general public and a lot of our stakeholders, as well as working with our landowners. We’ve got some landowners that are not only working at the port or at the point but are also working in the jurisdictional area. This is probably more important, in my opinion, than what’s happening at the point. We’ve got a really unique opportunity with the Inland Port area to really make something special happen in Salt Lake City. With that balance between industrial office, residential, and all these other types of spaces that are in demand, I think this is going to be the most important economic area and focal point in the state moving forward. We’re excited about the future.

Mekenna is the assistant editor of Utah Business magazine and a graduate of the print journalism program at Utah State University. She has written about business, music, and culture for publications like Business Insider, Time Out, SLUG Magazine, Visit Salt Lake, and the Standard-Examiner. She loves hiking, thrifting, reading, and taking camping trips with her partner in their 1986 Land Cruiser.