SALT LAKE CITY — On Tuesday, the state's largest and longest-running business association forged a new partnership with the tech/startup community in a collaboration both say will not only continue to keep the red-hot Utah innovation sector booming, but help it become a driver to expand benefits to other economic areas.
Salt Lake Chamber President/CEO Lane Beattie said the new memorandum of understanding with Silicon Slopes, the Utah nonprofit technology and innovation business advocacy group, is "destined to enhance the opportunities and voice of both" efforts across the state.
“Utah’s technology sector is an incubator that keeps our economy ahead of our peers, bringing investment and jobs," Beattie said. "The talent, both being developed here and brought in to our state, is bolstering up our economy and driving even more growth.
“It’s important to us as Utah’s ‘voice of business’ to engage with this next generation of emerging business leaders," he said.
While the new partnership gives the chamber a direct connection with the tech businesses that are fueling the state's fastest-growing economic engine, Silicon Slopes gets to leverage the experience and expertise the chamber brings to moving business-friendly public policy legislation.
"Our focus as an organization has not been on politics and policy, primarily because we’re not very good at it, but we’re realizing more and more that tech leaders and entrepreneurs and businesses are impacted by community issues," said Clint Betts, Silicon Slopes executive director. "Utah’s tech community must be a part of the conversation and needs to know how to better engage here on Capitol Hill, in city hall and in critical elections and ballot initiatives, and even in Washington.
"And that’s where this partnership with the chamber is so important," Betts said.
Betts is also excited about tapping into the chamber's statewide reach — the organization has 8,000 members from all 29 Utah counties — as his group was always intended to be a voice for all Utah tech and startup efforts, not just the companies that call the Wasatch Front home.
"For a long time, Silicon Slopes has been viewed as a Utah County, Utah Valley thing," Betts said. "But, we've always viewed our goal, from the start, as working on behalf of technology companies throughout the state."
Betts said Utah's innovation legacy has deep roots in Utah County, which first played host to now legendary early tech efforts like Novell and WordPerfect. Those early and successful companies helped seed the subsequent tech/startup growth in the area, but that mini innovation centers were developing all around the state. Betts also highlighted that the state's technology business sector shares the same critical needs as other growing economic areas.
"I think diversity, recruiting and education are among the top three concerns for our tech businesses," Betts said. "But, with our extremely low unemployment rate, these are issues shared by every growing business in the state."
Vance Checketts, vice president and general manager for data storage company Dell EMC — who also sits on the boards of both the chamber and Silicon Slopes, said it was critical to see, and nurture, the state's economy as a whole and that the new partnership would add to that effort.
"The coming together of these two organizations really shows a common commitment," Checketts said. "We want the state and the economy to continue to thrive and not just in the technology sector.
"There are a lot of interdependencies that are very important."
Checketts said that Utah businesses engaged in manufacturing, professional services and construction were working to navigate the same challenges as tech firms in drawing talent to the state. And, he believes that the formal addition of the "voice of the tech community" into the chamber's efforts will have positive outcomes for the broader economy.
"Each of these organizations is so powerful in what they do by collaborating there’s no doubt in my mind that some great things will be accomplished," Checketts said.