Every 12 months, we at Utah Business like to take a look back on the year that was—the trends, the big news stories, the events that made us all laugh and cry (and, believe us, Utah and BYU fans, we’ll be touching on at least one of those below). And, really, what better time to look back than September? It makes perfect sense. So without further ado, we proudly present the 2010 edition of our Best in Business.
Best example of closing the deal: The University of Utah
Attention aspiring inventors: Are you dreaming of solving the energy crisis by cloning and then harnessing the power of electric eels? Marketing your new software program that writes bestselling novels based on the answers to 10 easy questions? Realizing your idea for a device that can make any person sing like Christina Aguilera? Take your dreams to the University of Utah, where they could become reality.
According to the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM), the U is ranked first in the country (tied with a little backwater outfit called MIT) in creating new startup companies from research-based inventions. The university started 20 new companies in fiscal year 2008, and that was with a comparatively small $273 million in research funding (MIT received $1.3 billion).
What to make of this? Well, when it comes to economic development, the U is king. Now, if they could just do something about that basketball program.
And here’s something they definitely do better than MIT
Remember the guy holding up the sign that read, “Respect Us” (the “U” in the sign was a cleverly placed University of Utah logo) after Utah’s big win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl a few years ago? Of course you don’t. Nevertheless, that pleading fan’s wish seems to have come true.
In a move destined to reshape the college football landscape in our football-mad state (read: send BYU fans into the throes of despair), the Pac 10 conference invited Utah to go from BCS busters to BCS members last June by joining them. (The Utes accepted.) If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, we say. (Although it must be noted that the Utes have beaten ‘em quite impressively in the last several years. Maybe we should say, “If you want to beat ‘em even more, join ‘em.)
Utah will join the conference in 2011 after staging a magnanimous farewell tour through the conference they’re suddenly too good for, the Mountain West, in the coming football season. Expect the remaining members of that conference and their fans to lavish coach Kyle Whittingham and his players with some nice parting gifts. We hear Wyoming fans have something very special in mind.
Whether the Utes’ jump to the big time will actually avail them of more respect remains to be seen. But it will avail them of more cash. And these days in college sports (and a lot of other places), that’s what it’s all about.
Best reason to root for the little guys: The Jazz
Will the Jazz ever win an NBA championship? Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. The better question might be: Will the Jazz ever acquire a center who can play defense? Or, will the Jazz ever get an athletic shooting guard who can actually, you know, shoot?
Until these questions are answered, Jazz fans can be proud of the moxie their team showed last season in making a surprising, injury-plagued run through the first round of the playoffs before succumbing to an unbeatable (on the court, with the refs and especially in the salaries they pay their players) L.A. Lakers team.
Still, economists and basketball fans alike have to be impressed with the team that general manager Kevin O’Connor, coach Jerry Sloan and the Miller family have assembled from an assortment of second-round draft picks, free agent signings and a once-in-a-lifetime lottery pick. It’s a lesson in team play over individual talent, perseverance over pride and savvy over spending.
Sounds like a good formula for business success. But will it ever be enough to beat the Lakers? Questions, questions.
Best way to keep the state’s brightest dental talent at home
Last April 15th was a bad day for “anti-dentites” (YouTube it) all over Utah (and a really bad day for anti-dentites who failed to do their taxes on time). On that beautiful spring Thursday (beautiful, that is, to lovers of good dental hygiene, American Dental Association members and those receiving a tax return) it was announced that Utah will have its first dental school. Naturally, it’s called the University of Southern Nevada.
The $50,000-a-year-tuition school, which will be located at River Park in South Jordan (but headquartered in Henderson, Nevada), will try to lure the more than 160 Utahns who leave the state each year to pursue their dreams of digging canals in peoples’ mouths. It is assumed that the school will teach painless dentistry, but that won’t prevent graduates from having blood on their hands.
With 160 potential new dentists coming from Utah each year, we must have some of the best dental hygiene in the country. Or some of the worst. Whatever the case, take note beleaguered dentists: somebody out there really loves you.
Best reason to root for the little guys II: CSA farms
What kind of a relationship do you have with your food? Do you know where it comes from? (No, our judges won’t accept Walmart as an answer.) Do you know who produces it? (No, Ben at McDonald’s doesn’t count—great kid, though.) Do you care?
If you do, you’ve probably heard about (or you’re an active participant in) a trend that has become more prominent over the last year: Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms and food co-ops. Heck, you might even have a chicken coop in your backyard. If you don’t, you might be wondering why Utah Business is covering hippies like it’s 1969.
OK, that’s probably a stretch, but if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, here it is: Instead of getting their food from a supermarket chain that gets it from who-knows-where, more Utahns are getting it from local farms—fresh, organic produce that could have come out of the ground mere hours before it reaches the plate.
Sound expensive? In some cases it is, and in others, not so much. People who get their produce from one of the state’s nearly 20 CSAs might pay between $250 and $900 for monthly one- to four-person shares. People who buy from local grocery co-ops might save up to 50 percent compared to what they’d pay at a grocery store. Obviously, we’re talking different levels of commitment here.
Those who embrace this trend will tell you they’re committed to supporting local farmers, eating better and protecting the environment. Good things all, we say. Those who don’t can go back to eating that Big Mac. Convenience can be good, too. Right?
Best reason to let the sunshine in: LEED-certified buildings
Maybe a day will come when the term “green building” becomes obsolete—a day when it isn’t surprising and newsworthy that architects, engineers, builders, homeowners, business owners and everyone else with a roof over their heads are interested in things like energy efficiency, natural light, sustainable building materials and other hallmarks of the so-called green movement. When that day comes, “green building” will be known simply as “building.” It will be the accepted standard. Until then, we’ll continue to be fascinated by and laudatory of efforts to saving energy, improve efficiency and improve environmental quality in building.
Fortunately, it’s already starting to happen in Salt Lake City. Just this year, Utah-based LaPorte Properties renovated three 100-year-old buildings, turning them into LEED-certified, affordable housing apartments. Some features of this project are an emphasis on natural light, the use of sustainably harvested lumber and solar panels.
Further east, Utah firm Architectural Nexus opened its new headquarters in a converted gym that is now a shining example of what can be done with sustainable building practices. Every aspect of the building, from the concrete parking lot and drip irrigation system that waters the shrubs outside, to the noise-dampening insulation inside has been designed to reflect principles the firm hopes to pass on to its clients.
Maybe one day, when the term “green building” is reserved for structures that are actually painted green, these projects will seem quaint. For now, they’re signs of a bright future.
Best candidate to take up golf: Bob Bennett
It was a like a gift from the political sign copywriting gods—a memorable three-word call to action that actually rhymed. And it seemed to work like a charm for 18 years. Now, for better or for worse, we’re not going to be seeing those “Bennett for Senate” signs anymore.
OK, a lot of people would say that it’s for better while others disagree. But whether Bennett was merely a victim of the rising tide of anti-incumbency fever or a candidate who, at the age of 77, had lost touch with his constituency is open to debate. What isn’t open to debate is the fact that the now former senator suddenly has a lot of time on his hands. And while we surely won’t be seeing his name atop golf tournament leader boards, either by itself or in rhyming form, we’re confident that name won’t soon be forgotten.
Best reason to move to the country: Never-ending road construction
Look, we hate to dwell on this. As if it wasn’t bad enough to be sitting in your car on a hot afternoon looking at an eroding hill out one window and skyscraping oil refinery towers out the other, we have to rub it in your collective face in the pages of Utah Business. We’re sorry. And we’re right there with you.
Wherever you drive in northern Utah, you can be forgiven for developing an involuntary twitch when you see the words, “expect delays.” They’re inescapable. If you have a few extra moments and are looking for some fun, go to UDOT’s website and click the Road Construction link. You’ll see a map of northern Utah and cute road barrier icons representing the road construction projects currently underway. The whole of I-15 might as well be painted orange. Maybe on future maps of the United States, we can insist that Utah be colored with reflective orange with white stripes.
Oh well. It will all be finished someday, right? By then, we’ll all be commuting by jetpack.
Best use of glass and silicon: The iPad
How far have we come since ancient Greece? Tablet-toting philosophers like Plato really hit on a good thing when they came up with a way to write, teach and flat-out communicate with their boxwood and wax slates. It only took the geniuses at Apple 25 centuries or so to perfect what the Greeks began. And what a beautiful thing they’ve come up with.
As a fetish item, the iPad stands alone. It looks cool, it’s a status symbol and it’s revolutionizing the experience users have with their computers. Some users are reportedly so enamored with the alluringly tactile device that they’re actually going to bed with it.
Closer to home, local marketing firm Struck made their employees’ collective millennia by surprising each one of them with an iPad to call their own. Talk about commitment to staying on top of the latest technology.
Priced at $500 a pop, the iPad is something of a splurge for most people. Imagine making that kind of financial commitment, not to mention the monthly cellular charge on top of what you’re already paying for your iPhone’s data charge (because, c’mon, if you have an iPad, you surely have an iPhone) and then losing the darn thing. It’s a nightmare scenario that might just keep the more frugal minded waiting until the price drops, which it inevitably will. Then again, those wondering whether they should spring for one now might consider what one of the original tablet users noted: “A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.”
Best way to treat yourself after a long, crazy year: Frozen yogurt
It’s tangy, it’s available in a ton of flavors and it’s fat free. No, really. Unlike frozen yogurt trends of the past, when the yogurt wasn’t actually yogurt, today’s stuff, available in specialty shops all over the state, is the real McCoy. Don’t believe it? You could always take it to a lab and have it tested.
In recent years, cupcake shops have been all the rage. The little cakes sure are delicious, but you don’t need a lab to tell you how unhealthy they are. Maybe it’s a reaction to the decadence of specialty cupcake shops that places like national chain Red Mango and local outfit Top It Frozen Yogurt are so popular. Or it could be that people just love the taste.
With flavors like pomegranate, cookie dough and different flavors of cake batter, along with toppings that range from fresh fruit to candy bars, that might just be the answer. But, hey, when was the last time cupcake makers claimed their wares could help with digestion? We’re talking a win-win here. Now let’s see if it lasts. After all, next year is just around the corner.