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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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The U’s Role in Utah’s Transformation Into the Silicon Slopes

Graphic+by+Zac+Fox
Graphic by Zac Fox

Nestled in the Wasatch Mountains, Salt Lake City has always been a center for economic growth. Utah’s motto is “industry,” after all. In the past decade Utah has become a hotspot for development in the fields of technology, business and STEM. Many experts have been calling the land-locked state the next Silicon Valley, some giving it the moniker “Silicon Slopes.”

According to Business Utah, since 2015 Utah is home to over 5,000 tech companies. Among these is the educational technology company Instructure, which has been based in Utah for approximately eight years. The company has a wide variety of educational institutions as clients, including the U. The Instructure office space, like many other startups in Utah, takes a creative approach to inspire a team of software engineers working together to develop and improve products.

Citing Utah’s low taxes, inexpensive real estate and top-tier engineering schools like the U, CNBC ranked Utah the top location for tech startups in 2016. Of all 50 states, the United States Chamber of Commerce ranked Utah No. 1 in innovation and entrepreneurship, No. 2 in high-tech performance and No. 3 in economic performance.

In Utah, the term pioneer once connoted religious migrants towing handcarts. It has taken on a new meaning in recent years as several large companies have taken up residency in the state – Jet.com, Ebay, Netflix and Adobe all have offices in or near the Salt Lake Valley.

The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the U has contributed to Utah’s reputation for economic growth. The component of the David S. Eccles Business School has been nationally recognized for its quality of education in business.  Built to look like a massive garage, the institute’s Lassonde Studios is filled with workspaces and is always abuzz with activity as young entrepreneurs, engineers, programmers and inventors collaborate.

While the institute attracts more entrepreneurs to the state, Utah has a tendency to keep hold of its own talent. Most Utah natives either stay in-state or leave for school or go on a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, only to return a few years later.

In many ways, however, Utah is very different from Silicon Valley.  According to the 2012 census, approximately 62 percent of Utah’s population is LDS.

The headquarters for the LDS church are located in Salt Lake City, anchoring Utah in conservative political views.  Members of the church don’t consume alcohol or drugs. Some question whether or not the LDS morals that influence the rest of the state are conducive to economic growth.

Young members of the LDS church usually leave on missions for around two years and return more mature and ready to start families. This lifestyle means that young adults are looking to obtain high-paying, stable jobs. “They’re more loyal, on average,” said founder of Kickstart Seed Fund and member of the LDS church Gavin Christensen in an interview with Buzzfeed last year. “Big generalization, but the perception is they’re more loyal.”

If tech companies in Utah are striving to make a replica of Silicon Valley, they may have to abandon some of the state’s traditional moral values, as  Silicon Valley is known to have more competitive, greedy business politics.

Tech could be growing so quickly in Utah for a variety of reasons.  Among these is the fact that real estate in Utah is cheap, especially in comparison to the expensive apartments and office spaces in Silicon Valley.  Additionally, many are enticed by the close access to natural resources, beautiful landscapes and extreme outdoor sports.

One thing that the LDS church and so-called techies have in common is a history of persecution and criticism, and are perceived as having cultish tendencies. Members of the LDS church have been subject to violence and mocked for decades, while techies are used to being referred to as nerds and labeled as unfit for society.  Both consider themselves pioneers in their respective fields, and driven by the economy they have successfully come together in Utah.

“You have to go back to the history of Utah, to the underdog story,” Christensen told Buzzfeed. “Nobody wanted us. They kicked us out. They think we’re weird. Everybody is against us. You have to understand that piece of it to understand it, I think. There’s an element of ‘We’re going to show the world what we can do.’”

“I think that since Salt Lake is kind of a destination location, it makes sense that it would also be a growing tech place,” said Trevor Von Hake, a sophomore in accounting at the U. “Utah has a lot of money thanks to the tourism industry, so there’s a lot of allure to big businesses to come and make a home here as well.  Regardless, I’m excited to be a part of the business industry here in Salt Lake City.”

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