How A Small Tech Company Transformed Into A Blossoming Behemoth
In 1981, Bill Gates and Paul Allen moved Microsoft, a company of less than a dozen at the time, from Albuquerque to Seattle. The rest, as they say, is history.
As Microsoft grew, more engineers and software developers, more start-ups, and tech investment flocked to Seattle and clustered around the blossoming behemoth. Their decision to relocate set the course for Seattle’s transformation into one of the world’s epicenters of tech innovation.
Provo and The Urban Tech Hub
While San Francisco, Seattle, and Boston are the largest and most widely known tech cities, here in Utah, we’re proud that Silicon Slopes has become one of the world’s preeminent innovation hubs.
The Milken Institute’s report of America’s Best Performing Cities ranked Provo-Orem first and Salt Lake City fourth overall in 2021. And from 2014-to 2019, Provo-Orem ranked first in the country in both job growth and wage growth and ranked fourth in high tech GDP.
Statewide in Utah, tech industry job growth averaged 3.6 percent per year from 2007 to 2017, more than double employment growth in the tech industry nationwide. And a study by Seek Capital factoring working-age population growth, venture capital investment, and start-up activity ranked Utah the number one state in the country to start a business.
In Provo-Orem, BYU and Utah Valley University have been major catalysts in making Silicon Slopes the burgeoning tech hub it is today.
Five Companies In Utah With Valuations North of A Billion Are Founded or Led By BYU Alumni CEOs.
Many tech firms, including multibillion-dollar companies Qualtrics and Vivint, have clustered just a short drive from the BYU campus. “The commonality between every major tech hub is this great group of up-and-coming students,” said Ryan Smith, co-founder of Qualtrics and BYU alum.
Universities not only produce human capital and valuable research, but they also provide the support and knowledge networks that help nascent local companies grow.
The Stanford Industrial Park, home to Xerox, General Electric, and other pioneering tech companies, was perhaps the first tech hub.
The park brought the academy and cutting-edge companies together in one place to advance technical knowledge and helped spawn generations of entrepreneurs and thousands of companies.
From Silicon Valley to Silicon Slopes, we can see how the key ingredients come together to create vibrant innovation ecosystems.
A local company grows, attracting skilled workers and other similar companies, which attracts even more skilled workers and companies, creating demand for the myriad services found in all flourishing markets. But it all starts with skilled people.
Ending Rural Brain Drain In Ephraim
The same forces of agglomeration that create urban tech hubs have also precipitated the flight of talent out of America’s small towns and cities.
For decades now, talented individuals from rural America have had no choice but to flee to cities to find opportunities to apply their skills.
But now, the technology sector is growing faster than ever, and the supply of skilled labor isn’t keeping up with demand. The emergence of a remote labor market opens up some new opportunities, but that alone won’t solve the problem.
Despite positive inward migration to the state, many tech companies in Utah are having difficulty finding enough skilled talent. At the same time, rural Utahns across the state constantly struggle to find quality job opportunities.
How DevPipeline Is Bridging The Gap
DevPipeline, a workforce development company based in Orem is trying to bridge this gap. The company offers paid web development training and full-stack web development certification to aspiring tech workers. Last year, they started their Rural Initiative to bring more opportunities to rural Utahns, and keep “communities and families
together and more economically resilient.” In Ephraim, the company recently partnered with Snow College to provide continuing education and apprenticeship opportunities, and they are currently working to establish similar partnerships with more businesses and nonprofits across the state.
“We have to meet people where they are, not just in terms of geography, but in terms of skills. There is no shortage of talented people who want upward mobility, but they need realistic pathways to in-demand technical skills”, says Shayne Roy, DevPipeline’s COO.
How Ephraim Crossing Is Accommodating The Demand For Tech Spaces
Meanwhile, Ephraim Crossing, a new mixed-use campus with business, retail space, and residential living is being built to accommodate the growing demand for tech spaces in rural areas.
Once fully completed, the development will have a 32,000 square foot tech office, a coworking facility, and more than 400 residences. Multi-purpose tech-enabled communities like this can make small towns like Ephraim attractive to companies looking for affordable home bases.
Remote rural workers and others aspiring to work in tech often struggle to access the training, resources, and knowledge networks available in metropolitan areas.
Creating smaller hubs where knowledge workers can learn, collaborate, and interact with other knowledge workers, make coworking spaces a viable solution for rural areas.
How The Innovation Hub Is Supporting The Growth of Tech Ecosystems
Over in Uintah County, DevPipeline is working out of the Vernal Innovation Hub, a brand new 7,000 square foot coworking space for online rural workers and entrepreneurs.
In 2019, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development began soliciting grant applications for rural coworking and innovation centers. With this grant and additional funds from the county, city, and other local entities, a group of twenty community leaders realized a three-year vision to make the Innovation Hub a reality.
Formerly a police station, the renovated two-story building now hosts web developers, game designers, and other local knowledge workers.
The Vernal Innovation Hub includes space for meetings and events and hosts business development classes as well.
In his book, “The New Geography of Jobs”, urban economist Enrico Moretti writes, “More than any other sector, innovation has the power to reshape the economic fates of entire communities.”
The rise of distributed workforces is a positive development for towns like Ephraim and Vernal working to join the innovation economy. But having a physical place for people to connect, collaborate, and learn new skills will always be vital.
Workforce development programs like DevPipeline, and developments like Ephraim Crossing, and the Vernal Innovation Hub, make it possible for small towns to build the talent base and the knowledge networks to support their own tech ecosystems – however modest they may be. In doing so, they are changing the economic fate of their communities for the better.