We need to recognize that this is a problem in Utah. If we have a highly technical and educated workforce, then companies will come. The demand for technology is rising. —John Spigiel, general manager at Watson Labs
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's economy will struggle if the state's talent supply doesn't meet demand, area business executives said at the Utah Technology Council's annual members meeting Wednesday.
Business leaders called for partnerships with universities and support of K-12 education programs in order to raise a skilled workforce to meet demands for talent.
"Right now, it's a limited talent pool," said John Spigiel, general manager at Watson Labs, an arm of New Jersey-based Watson Pharmaceuticals. "And there are too many businesses within our industry that are competing for the same resources."
Spigiel extended an internship offer to a business student, but the student turned it down because he had already received three other offers.
"We need to recognize that this is a problem in Utah," Spigiel said. "If we have a highly technical and educated workforce, then companies will come. The demand for technology is rising."
Other Business leaders see the growing problem in connecting talent with companies.
"There's not much of a dialogue," said Alan Hall, co-founder of Market Star and chairman of the UTC executive committee. "We have to actually reach out to people and find them in every place we can to bring them into the enterprises."
The business leaders say the shortage in talent is also hindering companies that are trying to keep up with growing industries.
IM Flash Technologies, a joint venture between Intel Corporation and Micron Technology, produces parts for flash memory, said Keyvan Esfarjani, the company's executive officer and a member of UTC's executive committee.
IM Flash needs talented engineers that can keep up.
Last year, the Lehi-based memory company hired 64 engineers, but 59 percent of them came from outside Utah. IM Flash employs 1,600 people, including 1,000 engineers and technicians.
"Success comes by fueling innovation and talent," Esfarjani said in his presentation. "This isn't just about putting a lot of money into a business."
Other companies are concerned the slim talent pool will not be able to accommodate expansion.
Watson Labs has invested $44 million to expand its Salt Lake facility, Spigiel said. But without a strong talent pool to fill positions in the expansion, they may not see a return on that investment.
Speakers at the event said businesses within UTC must do more to improve Utah's fleeting talent pool.
The UTC needs to showcase tech companies in Utah and partner with the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce's in its Prosperity 2020 program, which focuses on improving test scores in elementary schools and postsecondary education, Spigiel said.
"We are trying to keep the talent in Utah and in Salt Lake," Spigiel said. "The challenge to identify and secure local talent and fill open positions."
IM Flash hired 28 interns last summer. The company also has invested about $1 million into public and higher education and has 15 of its managers in various educational advisory boards throughout Utah.
"You can have all the capital and strategies, but if you don't have the talent to solve all the technical problems, then that's going to be a major problem," Esfarjani said.
Watson Labs went from eight interns in 2010 to 20 interns in 2012, Spigiel said. The intent is to get student familiar with the pharmaceutical company for a potential position in the future.