Building Communities Free Enterprise Staff  | August 11, 2016

How Salt Lake City Became Utah’s Silicon Valley

While Salt Lake City has always had its fair share of successful homegrown entrepreneurs, ever-improving infrastructure and growing financial opportunities are luring out-of-state businesses and workers to the area like never before.

Last year, the city’s population grew by 1.05 percent, one of the largest increases in the country, according to Forbes. Val Hale, executive director of Utah’s Office of Economic Development attributes the influx of newcomers to the city’s rapid economic growth. The Salt Lake City metro area added more than 19,000 jobs in 2015.

“People are coming in from out of state and putting down roots,” Hale explained. “Those people open offices, network and then call their friends and say, ‘Hey, you should see what it’s like in Utah,’ which brings in even more people and businesses.”

The growing city is already home to several big-name companies. Adobe Systems acquired local web analytics business Omniture in 2009 and, in 2012, expanded its offices by creating a sprawling campus in Lehi, Utah, 25 minutes outside of Salt Lake City limits. Other tech companies in the area include Novell Inc., Xerox, Microsoft, eBay and Oracle.

Startups have also embraced the city, drawn in large part by the expanding pool of talented workers. Nate Rhodes, co-founder of medical startup Veritas Medical, which sells a technology that uses light to combat hospital-acquired infections, says he and his co-founders have found high-quality workers to help their business grow in Salt Lake City. The company, founded in 2012, currently has 10 employees and plans to increase that number in the coming years.

“The other benefit of starting a business in Salt Lake City is the cost of living,” he said. “It’s a quarter of what it would be in other cities—so we can pay less in rent and more to our employees.”

When it comes to entrepreneurial activity, scale makes a big difference to the local economy—that is, the more, the better. Troy D’Ambrosio, the executive director of Utah’s Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute, points out that local business owners benefit when entrepreneurs—especially experienced ones—move to the area.

“It’s a specific skill set that’s hard to build,” D’Ambrosio said of starting a business. “It’s much easier to create a successful startup the second, third or fourth time around than it is the first time. People who have that experience can help other entrepreneurs.”

D’Ambrosio also emphasizes that the city’s forward-thinking approach to infrastructure has laid the kind of foundation that will benefit entrepreneurs, workers, and business owners running well into the future. Improvements the city made decades ago are paying off now, which includes a light rail system that has spurred regrowth in the city’s downtown.

In addition, the University of Utah has played an important role in improving community infrastructure in the city. For example, the institution partnered with the government and community stakeholders to build the Olympic Village, which housed athletes during the Games and is now used for student housing.

There is much reason for optimism. Utah’s executive director of economic development believes Salt Lake City’s economic rise has no end in sight. The city has a range of talented workers helping fuel local industries—including tech and financial services—that it can rely on should the economy hit a bump in the road.

“We have a melting pot of industries, so if one industry goes down, it won’t be a fatal blow to the economy,” he said. Salt Lake City, he predicted, “will remain strong for a long time.”