By Elizabeth Johnson, EDCUtah
Utah has long been a destination for companies looking for a new home, and that’s with good reason. The state ranks among the best states for business, has an affordable cost of living, excellent higher education, and world-class outdoor recreational opportunities. Utah has demographic advantages, geographic advantages, and intentionality in how its state and local government, business sector, and universities work together to support high-growth industries.
Let’s talk about Utah’s demographics, the “People” part of the equation. Utah’s population is the youngest in the nation, with an average age of 31. The state is also among the fastest growing. In 2018, net in-migration contributed to 43.2 percent growth for the state. What’s that mean for business? A healthy, growing workforce.
Utah’s workforce is highly educated; 33 percent of the population hold a bachelor’s degree or higher and more than 120 languages are spoken in Utah universities. Three-quarters of the state’s population lives along the Wasatch Front, an area running 100 miles north to south along the Wasatch Mountains. This region includes the state capital and the ever-growing Silicon Slopes tech sector. The communities located elsewhere in Utah also have opportunities for those looking to move to the state.
Next, Utah’s geography, its advantages of “Place.” Ever since 1869 when the transcontinental railroad met in Promontory, Utah, the state has been known as the Crossroads of the West. Utah still has a love affair with rail – the first point at which rail lines from Southern California, the Bay Area, and the Pacific Northwest converge is in Salt Lake City.
The state continues to connect the east and west coasts with major highways. Further, the Salt Lake City International Airport – scheduled to open its new $3.5 billion facility in September of 2020 – has direct flights to six international cities and direct daily flights to the nineteen busiest domestic airports.
Its central location within the Rocky Mountains and ease of access to major transportation corridors means Utah is perfectly positioned for a company’s headquarters, regional operations or distribution center.
The infrastructure is not just above ground. Did you know Utah is home to the fourth node of the original internet? Utah boasts high concentrations of fiber optic broadband capacity. Utopia Fiber, for example, is the largest and fastest open-access fiber network in the country, serving 100,000 homes and businesses. Residents of the rural city of Morgan, Utah, have faster broadband connectivity than executives who live in California’s Silicon Valley.
Utah’s intentionality, or “Purpose,” starts with its state government. Utah has one of the most favorable tax climates in the nation and has low utility and real estate costs due to a business-friendly regulatory environment. The state of Utah has eliminated or modified nearly 400 business regulations since 2011 to ease the burdens on businesses.
Decades ago, Utah identified key industries to nurture. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) put resources into the effort. Today, Utah has the most diverse economy in the country, which provides excellent stability in times of economic headwinds.
What’s new in Utah? Among the many exciting things happening in the economic development ecosystem within the state is the newly established Northern Utah Economic Alliance. This partnership between Weber and Davis counties is based on successful models used in other states and aims to bring attention to the business opportunities in the region just north of Salt Lake City. The alliance is supported by the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah), which seeks to attract and grow competitive, high-value companies and generate business expansion.
Another key initiative to spur economic growth in the state is the Utah Mega Sites program, designed to identify and certify industrial sites of 400-plus acres. These sites are intended to attract large-scale industrial projects with the goal of 1,000 jobs or $1 billion in capital investment, and they allow Utah to compete for projects globally. Currently, Utah has one fully-certified site and another ten are on their way to completing the certification process.
Of Utah’s many robust industries, Life Sciences is a significant contributor to the state’s economy. Home to companies such as Merit Medical, Stryker, Edwards Lifesciences, and BioFire, Utah is one of the top states for life science employment with an employee base of more than 42,000 people. GOED works to support companies in many ways, including the Medical Innovation Pathways program, which provides high school students with the skills required to create career opportunities within the industry. In this nationally-recognized program, students receive certifications in areas related to medical devices and equipment as well as research, testing and medical labs.
Further supporting life science companies are two research universities and another nine institutions offering programs related to the industry, resulting in a high number of people entering the workforce every year. Research Park at the University of Utah provides students and graduates with access to research jobs, and is home to 48 companies that employ more than 14,000 people. The innovation campus at Utah State University likewise provides startups and established companies the necessary space, access to state-of-the-art facilities, and labor supply of students and faculty. Together, both universities provide the education, resources and opportunities for life science companies to continue flourishing within Utah.
Medical device manufacturing is a key component of Utah’s life science industry. The first successful placement of a mechanical heart, the Jarvik-7, occurred at the University of Utah hospital in 1982. Today, 70 percent of all arterial and vascular access devices used worldwide are manufactured in the state. Life science companies are not only experiencing growth along the Wasatch Front but are beginning to expand into rural communities. In May of 2019, Infab Corporation announced plans to open a facility and bring 90 jobs to the town of Hildale, along the Utah-Arizona border. Infab is the largest provider of radiation protection such as aprons, gloves and glasses. This particular win was described as a “game-changer” for the town by its mayor and demonstrates the power and impact of landing wins in rural communities.
Another growing sector within Utah is data centers. Home to companies such as DataBank, FiberNet, and Syptec, the state is seeing increased interest in building data centers here.
Factors contributing to Utah’s attractiveness include low natural disaster risk, competitive power rates, low operations costs, a burgeoning renewable energy system, and a prime natural environment – the low humidity and cold desert climate reduce the need for additional infrastructure to control the interior environment.
In May of 2018, Facebook announced plans to build a data center in the city of Eagle Mountain. The data center represents an investment of $750 million on 487 acres of land. A project of this scale required a significant investment in infrastructure, including road and power access, as well as substantial state and local incentives. Almost a year to the day, another company announced plans to locate in Eagle Mountain, on a site adjacent to Facebook. Tyson Foods broke ground on its first location in the intermountain west, a case-ready meat plant, in October of 2019. The city of Eagle Mountain continues to experience major success, with Facebook’s recent announcement to build a second data center on the same site, even before the company’s first complex is completed.
Utah has and continues to be an American economic powerhouse. With a diverse, stable, and growing economy, the state has much to offer to current and prospective residents. Home to the Mighty Five™ national parks and the “Greatest Snow on Earth®” and, with hope, the 2030 Winter Olympic Games, there®,” there’s something for everyone to enjoy. As a state, Utah is young, cost-effective, and well-connected – perfect for businesses to call home.