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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Nicole Peterson's hair raises from static after touching a Van de Graaff machine during SheTech Explorer Day at Utah Valley University in Orem on Friday, March 3, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature, version 2018, came down mostly supportive of a handful of new legislative efforts aimed at keeping the state's booming tech and innovation economy prospering.

Perhaps most significant was the passage of SB104, a bill sponsored by Sen. Ann Milner, R-Ogden. The initiative, with $2.5 million in funding, will incentivize students to pursue education paths in one of five yet-to-be-determined but likely tech-centric categories, according to Milner.

After graduation, the program participants would have 25 percent of outstanding tuition costs and fees eliminated for every year they work for a Utah employer.

"It really is trying to align, at the top level, our ability to meet some job needs," Milner said. "(The program) provides a final kind of piece of that puzzle for meeting our talent needs in the state of Utah."

Business leaders across the state have been bemoaning the lack of local talent to fill the unmet need in Utah's quickly expanding technology and innovation sector, a point that was further driven home at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit last month. At that event, Aaron Skonnard, CEO of Pluralsight, a wildly succesful Utah-based online education company, noted there were currently 4,000 unfilled tech jobs in the state.

The program, which could help aid up to 500 students pursuing technology career pathways, is also aimed at keeping more of Utah's homegrown talent in the state after graduation.

Abby Osborne, vice president for government relations for the Salt Lake Chamber, said the initiative will be a net economic-positive for the state.

"We export way more jobs than we import," Osborne said. "We’re using our taxpayer dollars to educate them and then we are exporting them. Let’s incentivize them to stay there. What they are going to return to the economy far exceeds what this is going to cost us."

A pair of bills looking to cultivate more interest from companies developing autonomous vehicle technology met with mixed results this session. While SB56 passed and will pave the way for new commercial truck platooning systems to operate legally on Utah roadways, another effort, HB371, failed to make it over the legislative fence.

The House bill, sponsored by Rep. Robert Spendlove, R-Sandy, would have put Utah out in front of the half-dozen or so states that are most aggressively pursuing new autonomous vehicle regulations. Spendlove said the effort could have had a big upside, economically speaking, for the state.

"Essentially, this lays out the framework for encouraging the development of these cars here in Utah," Spendlove said. "Encouraging these cars to come into our market and anticipating the changes that are not just coming, but are on us."

Federal legislation efforts were put on pause in early February as the U.S. Senate's AV Start effort, aimed at providing some nationwide regulatory framework for autonomous vehicles, was put on hold after a handful of senators voiced concerns about safety assurances and other issues. The U.S. House passed its own version of the bill last fall.

Efforts to manage the growth, both in residential population and commercial development, in the Point of the Mountain area got a boost with HB372 sponsored by Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, who also co-chairs the Point of the Mountain Development Commission.

Snow's bill created an 11-member authority to oversee the redevelopment of the current Draper prison site. The board will be made up of four lawmakers, four appointments by the governor, one each by Draper and Salt Lake City, and one by higher education.

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The 700-acre site, due to be vacated in 2021 when the new prison in Salt Lake City's northwest quadrant is due to open, is the equivalent of 70 city blocks and could potentially be the source of 50,000 new jobs. Work done by the commission over the last year has also underscored the intent to lure a nationally recognized research center to anchor the development, which will likely include a mix of residential, office and retail space.

And, Utah's very successful Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, which drew almost 15,000 attendees to its most recent event in January, will get a $250,000 boost from SB146, sponsored by Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi. The money is earmarked for marketing and outreach efforts to draw more out of area participants to the gathering, which nearly tripled in size from 2017 to 2018.