In November, Forbes released its sixth annual look at the business climates of the 50 states. And like its 2010 review, Forbes picked Utah as the “Best State for Business and Careers.”
Why? “No state can match the consistent performance of Utah. It is the only state that ranks among the top 15 states in each of the six main categories we rate the states on,” says Forbes.
What factors make Utah the best state for business? Energy costs 31 percent below the national average; employment growth averaging 0.6 percent for the past five years (for the United States as a whole, job growth has averaged negative 0.6 percent since 2005); a tax burden among the 10 lowest; overall business costs that are 10 percent below the national average; and population growth that is one of the fastest in the country, providing a burgeoning workforce.
“Businesses are getting the message on Utah. Procter & Gamble, ITT, Home Depot and Boeing all announced expansions in Utah this year. The Goldman Sachs office in Salt Lake City is its second biggest in the Americas with more 1,000 employees and significant expansion expected over the next four years,” Forbes adds.
Another factor that businesses outside the Beehive State are beginning to notice is the willingness of Utah’s residents, government, business and civic leaders to work together—to collaborate and cooperate. It’s Utah’s “secret sauce,” a phrase Spencer P. Eccles, Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), uses to describe the unprecedented partnerships that enhance Utah’s business-friendly environment.
Ian H. Solomon, U.S. Executive Director for The World Bank Group, tasted that “secret sauce” in January when he dined in Salt Lake City with government and business leaders representing organizations such as GOED, World Trade Center Utah, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah), the Utah Fund of Funds and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.
“I am impressed with the level of collaboration of state, civic and business leaders in Utah and believe this is one of the principal reasons the Salt Lake Chamber was selected to host a World Bank Private Sector Liaison Office,” says Solomon. “It is our hope that this partnership will make businesses in Utah and across the United States more competitive for World Bank procurement contracts, so they can create jobs here in the U.S. while helping the World Bank with its mission of fighting poverty in the developing world.”
Commitment to Collaboration
The partnership between the Salt Lake Chamber and The World Bank Group is one example of the many unprecedented partnerships that make Utah so unique. World Trade Center Utah CEO Lew Cramer says if you boil the “sauce” down to its three key ingredients, you will find that it is made of collaboration, cooperation and communication—the three Cs—which are essential for leveraging public and private sector resources to advance the State’s economy.
“Part of what makes Utah such an appealing place to do business is the fact that everyone interacts: elected officials, community and business leaders, organizations like the Chambers of Commerce, the Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR), the Utah Technology Council, the Utah Fund of Funds, the Utah Sports Commission, the Utah Alliance for Economic Development, EDCUtah, World Trade Center Utah, higher education, the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership and countless other entities,” says Riley Cutler, Director of GOED’s Outdoor Products Cluster. “There is no in-fighting, no fiefdoms, no turf wars—only a focus on building the economy.”
That interaction is also what makes GOED successful. “We all work together,” Cutler says. Communication and collaboration at GOED is a daily occurrence across the entire organization, which spans Business Development, International Trade and Diplomacy, Technology Commercialization and Innovation, Procurement Technical Assistance, Corporate Recruitment and Incentives, Rural Development, the Utah Broadband Project, Consumer Health Services (which manages the Utah Health Exchange portal), the Utah Office of Tourism and the Utah Film Commission.
“Everybody interacts. It is part of our ‘one-stop shop’ mentality,” he explains. For example, Cutler may encounter an outdoor business interested in relocating or expanding in the State. If the company is interested in export support, connections are made with GOED’s Office of International Trade and Diplomacy and with World Trade Center Utah. If the company seeks assistance with government contract procurement, connections are made with GOED’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center. If the company desires workforce training assistance, connections are with the Utah Department of Workforce Services and with Utah’s institutions of higher education. If the company is interested in applying for one of Utah’s economic development incentives, GOED’s Corporate Recruitment and Incentives team gets involved.
Further, Cutler says the business lead will be passed on to economic developers at EDCUtah, where the collaboration, cooperation and communication continue. EDCUtah works in partnership with GOED to centralize the economic development effort, managing RFP responses that will be provided by local economic developers, setting up site visits (which often include visits with the mayors and business leaders from the locations of interest), providing research information and, if schedules permit, arranging visits for company leaders with Gov. Gary R. Herbert.
“Economic development in Utah is truly unique,” says EDCUtah President & CEO Jeff Edwards. “We work in partnership with GOED and with city and county economic developers to represent nearly every aspect of economic development in the State. We make it much less complicated for businesses to evaluate Utah locations and resources, and extend our expertise to the local level where limited budgets and manpower may preclude some of our smaller communities from participating in economic development projects.”
The “secret sauce” certainly sweetens business development across the State, from rural Utah to the State’s urban core. The partnerships begin at the top of State government, where Gov. Herbert is working hard to remove needless restrictions on business and industry. He is also focused on making State government more efficient.
The partnerships extend to educational relationships between business, industry and higher education to produce the skilled workforce needed for an increasing number of high-tech jobs in the State. For example, an effort called the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership (UCAP) is aligning business, government and education leaders to meet the workforce demands of specific industries, such as aerospace, digital media and renewable energy.
In another area, Gov. Herbert’s new Economic Development Coordinating Council, a 12-member panel of government, business and industry leaders, is working to empower the private sector to grow 100,000 jobs in 1,000 days. Meanwhile, in rural Utah, economic developers and business leaders have collaborated to deploy a new Business Expansion and Retention (BEAR) program to support the growth and development of local businesses.
Business creation and expansion in Utah is further augmented through a network of business resource centers and the support of organizations like the Utah Alliance for Economic Development and the Utah Technology Council. The business resource centers are located strategically throughout the state. Many of the centers have co-located with SBA Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs), SCORE chapters, U.S. Export Assistance Centers and Manufacturing Extension Partnerships.
Furthermore, business and industry organizations like the Salt Lake Chamber and the Utah Technology Council serve to build and maintain relationships between business, industry and government leaders to foster economic growth across the State. The partnerships and collaboration that take place in Utah are truly phenomenal. The Utah Broadband Project is another example. In a joint effort, GOED, the Utah Public Service Commission and the Utah Department of Technology Services’ Automated Geographic Reference Center partnered to develop a statewide map of available broadband services and a plan to increase broadband adoption and deployment in the State.
“Every broadband service provider in the State assisted in the project,” says Tara Thue, GOED Project Manager. “It was simply amazing.”
“We communicate, collaborate and cooperate to a degree that I have not seen in the 35 years I have been in business,” says Cramer. “It makes an enormous difference. I have so many foreigners, internationalists and non-Utah people say to me, ‘You guys actually cooperate. You like each other.’ We do like each other and we do cooperate and collaborate. We are a small State so we have to be together on economic development. We’re not interested in turf wars. We want to see businesses grow and flourish and that is a team effort.”
Perhaps that’s why Forbes, in ranking Utah No. 1 for business and careers, said “the Utah story is far from over.”