Business Elevated Podcast (Episode 26)
This podcast series features business and government leaders discussing what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. This episode includes a conversation between Pete Codella, GOED’s director of Marketing and Communications and Ryan Starks, GOED’s managing director of Business Services.
Pete Codella (0:01): The Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, also known as GOED, has a team that’s focused on providing support to the states for-profit enterprises, and particularly small businesses, especially those in rural parts of the state. The team’s purview includes the state’s Procurement Technical Assistance Center, known as PTAC, the Business Resource Center, which is found in 18 different locations throughout the state, administration for Utah’s 46 Opportunity Zones, and the state’s innovation hub called the Utah SBIR Center, which is located in Sandy. We’ll discuss this, and a few more things, in today’s podcast.
Welcome to the Business Elevated podcast, where we discuss what it’s like to live and work in the great state of Utah. Did you know Utah is frequently ranked the best state for business by Forbes? This podcast is a production of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. Thanks for joining the conversation.
Pete Codella (0:57): This is the Business Elevated podcast, episode 26. I’m Pete Codella, GOED’s director of Marketing and Communications, and with me today is Ryan Starks, GOED’s managing director of Business Services, and the only colleague I share an office wall with. Welcome, Ryan.
Ryan Starks (1:12): Thank you, Pete. And thanks for sharing a wall with me.
Pete Codella (1:14): Yeah, absolutely. Try to keep it down over there would you?
Ryan Starks (1:17): Okay.
Pete Codella (1:18): You’re fairly new to GOED. You came last fall. Why don’t you share with us your professional background and kind of what brought you to GOED?
Ryan Starks (1:27): Well thanks again for inviting me to be on the podcast. I’ve been at GOED now for the past four months, having a great time. We have a wonderful team here.
Pete Codella (1:36): We do.
Ryan Starks (1:37): For the past eight years I’ve been doing economic development work up in Wasatch County. I live in the Heber Valley, and in my role there I served as the economic development director, the director of tourism marketing and as the president of the Chamber of Commerce. It gave me a great bird’s eye view of how economic development really works in rural Utah. I also had the opportunity to work closely with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and some of the programs and with many of the staff members, and always admired the good work that this office did. I received a call from our executive director about six months ago asking if I’d be interested in joining the GOED team. I decided to apply for the position and went through the interview process, and here I am today. Coming full circle, prior to working in Wasatch County, I spent a few years working for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and later at the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget. It’s not my first rodeo, as we like to say in Heber.
Pete Codella (2:41): That’s right. And you certainly bring a great skill set and good experience to the job. I was part of those interviews, and I can vouch for the fact that you’re a great person to have in this role. We’re glad you’re here.
Ryan Starks (2:53): Well, thanks. Glad to be here.
Pete Codella (2:54): So you recently changed your team’s name from Urban and Rural Business Services to Business Services. Why don’t you explain why you made that change?
Ryan Starks (3:03): First and foremost, we felt like it was a mouthful to say Urban and Rural Business Services at the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Pete Codella (3:10): That is a long name.
Ryan Starks (3:12): To help with the flow of the way we say the name of our department we decided to go with Business Services. It felt like that was more representative of what we do. Looking at urban and rural, it almost feels like there’s a divide, and by calling it urban and rural, it makes it feel like there are urban programs and rural programs. We felt that if we could simplify the name of it, it would show that our programs are for all of Utah. We have many examples, like the business resource centers, the Opportunity Zones, and other programs that benefit all of Utah. Rather than put rural in its own silo, we felt that we could really bring rural to the table with urban and make sure that we’re addressing many of the issues everybody faces.
Pete Codella (4:01): Absolutely. That leads me to the next question. You have a number of people on your team who are actually located in different parts of the state. Talk about how many people are on the team, what they do and where they’re located?
Ryan Starks (4:12): I would say we have a really fantastic team. That’s been maybe the highlight thus far working at GOED is just the incredible work ethic and the commitment to the state. We have 20 people on the business services team. Those people represent our PTAC program, our business resource centers, our rural outreach and our SBIR. It’s a talented team. We have our targeted industry directors as well. We have people living in rural Utah and in urban Utah. We all have a common vision, and that’s to elevate the quality of life within the state. Primarily we do that by serving small businesses, by working with community leaders and we’re having a good time in doing so.
Pete Codella (4:58): I’ve heard it said that small business really drives the Utah economy. I mean, we’ve got some standout, awesome, huge companies and brands, but we have a lot of entrepreneurial startups and small businesses that really support our economy.
Ryan Starks (5:13): We do. Small businesses are the lifeblood of Utah success. As we look back over the past 10 years, Utah’s been ahead of the curve. We’ve been ranked among the best states for business, the best state for entrepreneurship. And it really starts at the small business level.
Pete Codella (5:29): How would you say the business services team here at GOED supports business in Utah statewide?
Ryan Starks (5:35): Well, first let’s talk about some of the programs. We have something called PTAC, which stands for Procurement Technical Assistance Center. Our director, Chuck Spence, leads a team of about 10 people across the state who are meeting with small businesses on a daily basis. They have 3,000 active clients, and these clients receive consulting services from PTAC. Our officers around the state are helping these businesses identify opportunities to grow, and then specifically connecting them with federal government resources and grant opportunities. It’s really neat if you think of a small business, maybe an industrial supply company that cleans industrial buildings. Well, they would love to land a contract with the federal government, and PTAC helps make that connection so that our small businesses can land these federal government contracts and really grow and prosper.
Pete Codella (6:34): And PTAC services are free of charge.
Ryan Starks (6:36): They are. That’s the nice thing. All of our programs and services are free of charge. It’s the governor’s initiative to really support business expansion. We have a lot of partnerships, and this is just a great example of how the Governor’s Office of Economic Development can support small businesses.
Pete Codella (6:53): If I remember right, Chuck Spence, who leads PTAC, has been with the department even before it was named GOED for 25 years or something, right?
Ryan Starks (7:02): He’s been here for a long time. He’s climbed the ranks, he’s been a counselor.
Pete Codella (7:06): He’s got great experience.
Ryan Starks (7:07): He really does.
Pete Codella (7:08): Okay. Let’s talk about legislature authorized grant programs. I believe right now there are 10 of them. And they, like you said, work across the state, both in urban and rural Utah. What does that look like going forward? Do you think the number of programs might change after this legislative session when the new fiscal year starts in July?
Ryan Starks (7:29): That’s a great question. I feel like everybody in Utah wants to serve rural Utah. Rural’s kind of our darling. Everybody loves visiting there, we love the people there and we love the lifestyle. From time to time the legislature will create new programs aimed at really servicing rural Utah. GOED’s role is to administer those programs. Currently, we have 11 active rural programs. Through some legislation that’s being proposed, there is an opportunity to simplify the process and to be more targeted in our approach to rural Utah.
Pete Codella (8:08): And that’s probably something you support?
Ryan Starks (8:13): It is. We like simplicity and we like effectiveness, and think that this program will be more effective. What it does is it eliminates four or five of the existing programs and it replaces it with a larger grant program, so rural counties can apply for a large sum of money to meet their economic development needs. Having been in Wasatch County, the challenge is sometimes the GOED programs don’t really fit the needs of the communities. This empowers the communities to solve their own problems, and it puts GOED in a position to help support it financially.
Pete Codella (8:49): Ryan, are the grants just for, let’s say, counties or other entities, or are they for businesses, for business owners, or both?
Ryan Starks (8:58): We have some programs that are aimed just for communities and counties. We have a few others that are aimed more for the business community. The enterprise zone tax credit, for example, it’s meant to benefit businesses that expand and that invest into capital equipment, and also that hire new employees. We have a really cool one called the Rural Economic Development Incentive, or REDI for short. The REDI program benefits businesses that are expanding into rural Utah.
Pete Codella (9:29): When you say grant, I mean this is money that they receive if they meet the criteria to improve their business? They don’t have to pay it back, it’s not a loan.
Ryan Starks (9:37): That’s right. They don’t have to pay it back. And the nice thing is it’s not a wad of cash that we’re giving them upfront. We’re inviting them to grow and expand. As they do that on a post-performance basis, they’re rewarded with this grant money.
Pete Codella (9:52): That’s a good point actually, about economic development in Utah, which I think some misunderstand. Other states are a little more aggressive and just handing out, like you said, the handfuls of cash to incentivize. Utah through our legislature and our elected officials, has really purposefully created a program that’s post-performance. It invites companies to come here and to be successful and grow. And like you said, capital investment, high paying jobs, things like that. Then they can get a tax credit.
Ryan Starks (10:26): That’s right. I think it’s a very effective model because it puts the state in a really good position to foster development, but without over-promising or over-committing without seeing the results that we all want.
Pete Codella (10:38): One could argue for the past decade Utah leading the way certainly has proven to be effective.
Ryan Starks (10:44): Absolutely.
Pete Codella (10:46): Here are just a few examples of Utah businesses that received grants for specific capital investment in new jobs. For the Rural Fast Track Grants in the calendar year 2019, 24 rural companies received $1,079,000 in grant funds, or $9,028,000 in capital investments to grow their companies. For the creation of 25 new full-time jobs. One company is a cabinet and mill shop in Box Elder County that received a grant for $50,000 after it hired a new employee and invested $230,000 in new equipment to improve production. For the Rural Coworking and Innovation Center Grants in 2019, GOED issued $500,000 in grants to four groups for the creation of five rural coworking and innovation centers. This will promote entrepreneurship and remote work opportunities for individuals who live in rural areas, but have skill sets to work for companies that are mainly located in urban areas.
An example is the USU extension in Garfield County that received a Rural Coworking and Innovation Center Grant. They’ll build semi-private offices for 4 to 6 full-time remote workers, a conference and work area for an additional 10 part-time remote workers, as well as a work area for unlimited remote workers who may use the USU extension facility as needed for 2 or fewer hours at a time. A classroom area for about 40 individuals, and a commercial kitchen facility for potential small business food product startups. For the REDI Grant in 2019, we issued contracts totaling $1,475,000 to incentivize the employment of up to 248 workers in rural Utah. For example, a company in Sanpete County connected to the aerospace industry applied for a $30,000 grant. They will receive grant funding when they’ve hired 5 new full-time employees and retain those employees for 12 consecutive months.
The Utah SBIR Center assists Utah small businesses to apply for the Federal Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Funding programs, giving Utah technology-oriented companies a distinct advantage in today’s marketplace. The center has received one of the U.S. small business administration’s highest honors, the Tibbetts Award, for its socio-economic impact and exemplary achievements. We invite you to learn more at business.utah.gov/utah-sbir-center.
Ryan Starks (13:11): We’re led by a very awesome director. Her name is Mary Cardon, and she leads this small business innovation research initiative. Its purpose is really to connect research and development and small businesses with federal grant funding opportunities. It’s wonderful because it’s a statewide program. Mary has two other people that work with her, Linda and April. All three of them are located at the Salt Lake Community College Campus in Sandy, and together they work with businesses from around the state connecting them with federal government resources. Just last month I was with a small business owner that has some really innovative ideas regarding water technology. We live in the desert, we live in Utah, and this type of technology could really be an important investment for the state. This small business is looking to scale up, and to grow and to receive some federal funding. Mary and her team were able to sit down with this company and point them to a federal government grant program aimed at helping that type of company expand.
Pete Codella (14:20): Do you know how many years of combined experience the team at the SBIR Center has. It’s a lot, right?
Ryan Starks (14:25): It is. It’s roughly 25 years of combined experience. Just their attitude and their commitment, they want businesses to succeed. The great part about Mary and her team is they have a 27% success rate, whereas the national average is less than 20%. We’re seeing a lot of wins. Mary’s connecting companies to the right grants, and we’re seeing a lot of success as a result.
Pete Codella (14:49): And again, services from the Utah SBIR Center are free.
Ryan Starks (14:53): They are free.
Pete Codella (14:54): That’s great. Let’s talk about the 18 different business resource centers located throughout the state. Would you explain what a BRC is, what it does, where to find one and how they help Utah businesses?
Ryan Starks (15:07): Absolutely.
Pete Codella (15:08): A lot of questions all at once.
Ryan Starks (15:09): That’s okay. Thanks for the good question. Our BRCs are a really unique model, a Utah based model, where the BRC then becomes an umbrella for other service providers. For example, at the Utah Valley University campus in Orem, we have one of our BRCs. Housed within this business resource center are other programs as well. Something called the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, which is the Society of Retired Executives.
Pete Codella (15:38): Government loves acronyms.
Ryan Starks (15:40): Absolutely. So this BRC model then brings together the various business service providers. Whether it be small business development centers, PTACs, or workforce services, offices that are meant to help small businesses.
Pete Codella (15:56): It’s a physical location, different areas around the state where all these different kinds of support and helpful entities exist?
Ryan Starks (16:03): It’s the catalyst that really connects businesses with the resources that they need. We do have physical locations all the way from St. George up to Logan. It’s a statewide program.
Pete Codella (16:15): Are they all located at universities or colleges?
Ryan Starks (16:18): That’s part of the legislation is that they have a partnership with a university or a technical college.
Pete Codella (16:25): A business resource center, or BRC, is a local business service provider providing ongoing assistance to help Utah businesses grow. BRCs also house additional resources like microloan organizations, business incubators, maker spaces, chambers of commerce, local economic development organizations and investors. You can learn more at business.utah.gov/brc.
When Congress passed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017, one of the most impactful pieces of legislation called Opportunity Zones. It didn’t initially get a lot of attention. Many investors and economists consider the program a game-changer for economically distressed communities, as well as a tremendous investment tool for those with capital gains tax obligations. Utah has 46 Opportunity Zones.
Ryan Starks (17:15): This program initiated under the Obama administration and then came to fruition during the Trump administration. It’s received bipartisan support at the national level. Working with the federal government, Utah was able to work with our counties to identify the areas that were in the greatest need of investment. The purpose of the Opportunity Zone Program is to capture precious investment dollars into underserved areas. As you mentioned, we have 46 geographic locations around the state, all the way from rural Utah to downtown Salt Lake. These zones are built so that investors can roll over their capital gains dollars into new projects. It’s exciting to see what the Utah legislature doing this year. We have a couple of bills out there that are making this good program even better so that an investor then can benefit by building affordable housing, or commercial units, or even parking structures to help alleviate some of the traffic congestion that we see.
Pete Codella (18:22): Are all the Opportunity Zones in what you might call a blighted neighborhood? Is that how it works?
Ryan Starks (18:29): Yeah. And that’s a really good question, because it wasn’t GOED’s position to call a neighborhood blighted or not. Instead, we went to the county leadership throughout the state and said, what are the areas that you consider to be the most in distress?
Pete Codella (18:43): That’s a good point. The request came from the Federal Government, the governor received it and tasked GOED with identifying where the Opportunity Zones would be. GOED, in turn, reached out to local communities to get their input, and then the governor was able to select a certain percentage of the areas to the Opportunity Zones. Where can people go to learn more about the Opportunity Zones?
Ryan Starks (19:04): So people can go to opportunityzones.utah.gov, and our business service team is really promoting this program across the state. We’re visiting with chambers of commerce and we’re going to economic summits and business summits. We’re partnering with the Utah Association of Counties, and also with the Sorenson Impact Center at the University of Utah. Those two partners are fantastic. In fact, we’re receiving national accolades for a lot of the work that they’re doing. And so, through these different channels, we’re educating communities on the value of the Opportunity Zones. We’re also inviting potential investors to learn more about Utah and to really make a difference in our communities.
Pete Codella (19:47): Similar to other state’s economic development efforts, GOED has identified six targeted industries in which to strategically foster growth and help maintain Utah’s diverse economy. Ryan, why has the state identified these specific industries as targeted industries?
Ryan Starks (20:04): Great question. We do have six targeted industries within the state, and these are industries with the greatest potential for growth. These industries include outdoor recreation, and luckily we have an awesome outdoor recreation office here at GOED. We work closely with them, but they kind of do their own thing. We also have an energy focus, and the governor’s elevated energy in the form of creating the Governor’s Office of Energy Development. So again, we work closely with them. Then we have four remaining targeted industries that our team really focuses on. The first is financial services. We partner with the University of Utah. They have a Center for Financial Services, and a wonderful team there that’s creating new curriculum, and creating outreach opportunities and awareness of the sector within the state. Then we have three other industries with two people here at GOED, Clark and Chanel.
Clark handles our life sciences. He works closely with the life science industry. He’s often attending meetings and being the liaison from the Governor’s Office to industry and making sure that they’re equipped with the resources that they need. Chanel’s assigned to two different targeted industries, aerospace and tech. She’s going to trade shows and she’s going to associations, and really making sure that these groups understand what resources are available and that they’re able to grow and prosper. We’re really excited to support our targeted industries. In the past, we called them clusters, but felt like a better term would be targeted industries. And we’re seeing great things.
Pete Codella (21:44): And do the targeted industries feed into Utah’s diverse economy?
Ryan Starks (21:49): They absolutely do. It’s interesting, because our corporate recruitment team and our partnership with EDCUtah is honed in on these targeted industries. As they’re recruiting companies, typically they fall into one of these groups.
Pete Codella (22:03): There’s an index that says Utah’s one of the most diverse economies in the country. I think that the focus on targeted industries like that really helps us diversify. It makes it so that if there is a downturn we’re not as susceptible to challenges that come from that.
Ryan Starks (22:21): Absolutely. I think it’s a wonderful ranking or accolade because it shows that we care about differing sectors. Some states have a very strong sector in tourism or in manufacturing, but I think we’re pretty well balanced. The exciting thing about our targeted industries is that we’re in the process of actually doing a study to look at, are we still hitting the mark? The last time we identified these targeted areas was 2005, so we’re in the process of working with workforce services in the Kem C. Gardner Institute and EDCUtah to outline what the future of our targeted industries? Are there areas that we should focus on that we’re not currently focusing on now?
Pete Codella (23:03): One area that I think got a lot of attention is Silicon Slopes. Our IT industry has really grown over the last decade and more. Seeing that kind of national recognition for the growth occurring in Utah is awesome.
Ryan Starks (23:16): It is. It’s really putting us on the map. Other states are envious of the success that we’re having, and large part because of that tech growth.
Pete Codella (23:25): So Ryan, your team organizes some meet and greet CEO and business leader round table discussions with the governor. Actually, I’ve been told by more than several people how unique it is that he’ll be available for businesses, that he’ll make himself available, and that that access is pretty unique in Utah. How do you determine who gets invited to the round tables? How do you organize them? How could someone listening to the podcast kind of raise their hand and say, hey, I’d love to be invited to the next round table?
Ryan Starks (23:56): That’s a great question. And I’ll just reiterate what you mentioned, and that’s that our governor really does care about industry and about businesses. He wants to listen. Kudos to him for his great love for Utah businesses.
Pete Codella (24:10): Agreed.
Ryan Starks (24:12): Each quarter we host a round table and we work closely with the governor’s staff to determine what the topic should be. In the past we’ve done international business, we’ve done IT, the tech sector.
Pete Codella (24:28): We’ve invited chambers of commerce leaders.
Ryan Starks (24:30): We’ve invited everybody from different sectors over the years. We have an upcoming event in May where we’re convening about 25 leaders within the healthcare industry. Rather than throw darts and make arbitrary decisions on who should be there, we actually reach out to industry leaders. In this case, we’re working with the Utah Hospital Association and asking who would be the members that would maybe benefit from a visit with the governor. They can share ideas, opportunities, challenges? Working with our partners and with the industry, we’re able to identify a list of people that really can make the meeting great.
Pete Codella (25:09): From what I’ve seen of these round table discussions, people will pose questions and get a direct response from the governor. Or promise to look into something and get more information.
Ryan Starks (25:19): That’s right. It’s not just lip service. He really does care. And the staff at GOED is often tasked with following up and helping these businesses.
Pete Codella (25:29): That’s great. What else would you like to share about in business services at GOED?
Ryan Starks (25:36): Business services at GOED is a really talented team. We are rearranging our website a little bit to make it a little more user-friendly. We feel like we can provide opportunities to connect businesses with the resources that they need. We might not have all the answers and we might not have all the resources, but we’re well connected in that we can point businesses in the right direction.
Pete Codella (25:58): What’s the best way for people to reach out to you?
Ryan Starks (26:01): The best way for businesses to reach us is to visit our website, which is business.utah.gov, and then in the contact us section we have a list of our staff. We’re excited to work with businesses and hopefully make a difference in Utah.
Pete Codella (26:16): That’s a good point. We do have a staff directory on our site, which includes phone numbers and email addresses for each of us individually, as well as for the teams.
Ryan Starks (26:25): That’s right.
Pete Codella (26:25): Tell us a little about Ryan. Tell us about your family, what do you like to do for fun?
Ryan Starks (26:31): My wife and I have four children. Three sons and one daughter. Much of our time is spent outdoors. We love to hike, we love to visit Southern Utah. About three or four times a year, we’ll visit St. George, or we’ll visit Kanab, or different areas. Just last year we went down to Escalante and spent our spring break there.
Pete Codella (26:52): Beautiful.
Ryan Starks (26:53): So, we just really love the outdoors in Utah. This winter I’m teaching my sons to ski.
Pete Codella (27:00): How’s that going?
Ryan Starks (27:01): Oh, it’s going okay. We’re excited about that.
Pete Codella (27:06): That’s great. Anything else you’d like to share before we wrap up?
Ryan Starks (27:09): Yeah. We also like to kayak and to paddleboard, and if you haven’t been to Mirror Lake, I’d recommend it to anybody listening. It’s a great place to bring your paddleboard and to take a picnic. We live in the Heber Valley. We’re excited to live in Utah, and love being part of team GOED.
Pete Codella (27:25): That’s great. Thank you, Ryan. Managing director for Business Services in the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. We do appreciate your time and willingness to join us today on the podcast. Again, I’m Pete Codella, GOED’s communications director. And by the way, if you live and work in Utah or have any feedback or topics you’d like us to cover, maybe you have a story to tell or people you’d like us to interview, please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you. You can catch this and other Business Elevated podcast episodes on our website, business.utah.gov, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for joining us. We’ll catch you next time.
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