Article

Strength in Numbers

Companies Thrive in Utah’s Economic Clusters

Linda T. Kennedy

March 1, 2011

Adobe Systems Inc. recently found a reason to take a look at the State of Utah, and the tech giant made a big discovery: Utah has a flourishing technology industry fueled by skilled workers, a great business climate and, most importantly, the friendly competition and cooperation between hundreds of local tech companies.

Adobe has begun the first phase of a major new technology campus in Utah. The 230,000-square-foot campus will ultimately employ 1,000 workers in the State. Why did Adobe choose Utah for this expansion? Among the many reasons was this one fact: because of Utah’s cluster of tech companies, Adobe will always have the necessary resources and workforce base to draw upon.

The Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) has identified seven targeted industry “Clusters” that it is working to strategically support and strengthen. As a whole, these clusters provide a sustained competitive advantage to all of the businesses and organizations within each industry sector. GOED works as a facilitator, bringing together government, industry, education, capital and talent within these clusters to promote industry growth.

Software Development and IT

Utah is an active center of technology and software development, with big-name companies such as IM Flash Technologies, Symantec, Novell, Overstock.com, Sorenson Communications, Ancestry.com and numerous others. Utah’s 3,600 IT firms employ more than 42,000 Utahans, a growth of 28 percent since 2005. Annual wages paid by the IT firms totaled more than $2.6 billion in 2009. Companies continue to take advantage of Utah’s strong IT and software workforce and our ongoing number of high-quality university graduates.

Along with other public and private partners, GOED is building a cluster of companies that create media content for films, television, video games and computers, among many other applications. Some of the largest names in the industry, such as Electronic Arts, Disney Interactive Studios and Move Networks, have offices in Utah. Homegrown companies include dynamic digital media companies such as Sandman Studios and Spectrum DNA.

The Utah Science Technology and Research initiative (USTAR) facilitates networking events and connects companies with university technologies. “Utah's research and regional higher education institutions bring unique strengths to digital media, not only in terms of visual arts and technology but also in terms of workforce development,” says Steven Roy, USTAR Central Utah Technology Outreach director. “USTAR's role is to help catalyze these efforts and make connections between university and industry experts.”

Life Sciences

The Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention is the largest biotechnology event in the world. Utah has now been a contributing player for years at BIO. With the latest technology and company innovations, State officials and Utah life science companies annually showcase how life sciences is a critical part of Utah’s dynamic economic environment.

“We showcase our best and show that we are growing and have the resources companies need,” says Tami Goetz, State Science Advisor at GOED. “There have been inquiries from other companies looking at what we have and wanting more information as they build their long-term business strategies. University representatives have called exploring opportunities here for commercialization.”

According to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, in 2010 the industry accounted for roughly 25,500 highly-skilled jobs in the State, and industry leaders say they will need 1,200 additional workers in the future. This represents a continual 3 percent annual growth rate since 2005 for the industry.

Utah is making great strides in developing a qualified workforce for this industry with a $5 million Workforce Innovations in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant from the U.S. Department of Labor. Now, students are entering industry-related training courses, along with a biomanufacturing training program and a new four-year biotech program.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to create a talent pool to help companies grow,” says Goetz. 

Employers such as Myriad Genetics, ARUP Laboratories, Merit Medical, Idaho Technology, BARD, Sorenson Genomics and IMC are strong life science companies in the state. But companies such as USANA and Nu Skin represent another very large life science industry sector: natural products and dietary supplements. With several national leaders in Utah, this industry represents almost 25 percent of the national market.

Energy and Natural Resources

The Utah Energy and Natural Resources Cluster employs almost 24,000, and those employers pay their workers an average wage 65 percent higher than the state’s average wage. 

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