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Utah’s downward slopes attract rising talent

Is the “Silicon Slope” replacing Silicon Valley as tomorrow’s tech hub?

By Paige Steers | Paige.Steers@am.jll.com | @PaigeSteers

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No one had to strong-arm Jim Balderson into moving his wife and two young kids from Silicon Valley to Utah’s Silicon Slope. After learning the ropes of commercial real estate in California’s technology hub, he relocated to Salt Lake City for a better way of life. That was 2009, and Balderson hasn’t looked back. He now leads JLL’s Salt Lake City outpost.

“I came here for the same reasons a lot of people are leaving the valley. Utah offers a great lifestyle and economic prospects, and is much more affordable,” Balderson says. “Salt Lake is becoming Silicon Valley’s second city.”

Balderson is far from the only pilgrim who’s made the eastward migration, lured by Utah’s burgeoning opportunities, concentration of talent and agreeable lifestyle. In the past five years, 300 companies have moved to, or expanded their office presence in, the so-called Silicon Slope region of Utah. The region now houses 4,300 tech companies, according to JLL research. The likes of Adobe, EBay and Goldman Sachs have all opened offices in the region; and Salt Lake City is drawing a heavy concentration of tech talent to rival tech hubs like San Francisco, New York and Austin, Texas.

“The Silicon Slope is creating a compelling environment for high-tech companies. This is the region to watch as it could become Silicon Valley no. 2 in the next few years.”

Jim Balderson, Senior Vice President, Brokerage; JLL Salt Lake City

“Adobe is just one of the many big name tech companies making their way to the Utah Valley,” notes Fibernet blogger Andy Chapman. “Twitter has also opened a data center on these same slopes and the NSA is still building its own data center. Over 1,400 employees from Goldman Sachs are working in Salt Lake City office space, becoming one of Sachs largest offices.”

A host of early-stage tech companies are also setting up shop in Utah. Reddit, Workday, Gild, Thumbtack and Fireeye have moved from the Bay Area in the last two years. Locally grown companies are expanding too; Balderson is helping education technology startup Mastery Connect, and video recruiting company HIREVUE, land new office space. He also assisted in social-media company Reddit’s move from San Francisco to a 7,500-square-foot creative space in downtown Salt Lake City. The company’s hip office has all the Silicon Valley trappings: exposed timbers, high ceilings, bright colors and whimsical graphics—the hallmarks of a creative vibe.

“This is the perfect locale for a growing technology company,” says Max Green, Reddit’s Salt Lake City office manager. “We recruit talented engineers from all across this country. Our employees are attracted to downtown locations and an urban lifestyle, and we found that mix here in Salt Lake City.”

Balderson says young talent like creative space that encourages innovation. “High growth companies are setting up shop in Salt Lake City to capitalize on the deep bench of talented workers throughout Utah.”

“Utah provides an environment that makes it easy to do business here. Through tax incentives and lower taxes in general, the state has partnered with high-tech companies to bring them here, and it’s attractive because there is a highly educated workforce and the state and local governments remove a lot of the red tape.”

Brad Hatch, communications manager at eBay

There are plenty of other reasons young workers are moving to Utah. Salt Lake boasts a 3.1% unemployment rate, compared to 6.3% for the national average, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Wages and salaries increases have doubled the national an average at 3%, according to JLL.

Many companies also appreciate the state’s political climate. E-Bay expanded its regional campus in Utah by 150,000 square feet of commercial space in 2012 in order to accommodate the 2,000 Utah residents the online auction giant employs at its Draper facility. “Utah provides an environment that makes it easy to do business here,” Brad Hatch, communications manager at eBay told the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “Through tax incentives and lower taxes in general, the state has partnered with high-tech companies to bring them here, and it’s attractive because there is a highly educated workforce and the state and local governments remove a lot of the red tape.”

On top of all the economic incentives, the talent pool and the breathtaking scenery, Provo is one of the first cities in the country to get Google Fiber, the ultra-high-speed data network. The city now has broadband services that are 100x faster than standard internet connections elsewhere in the country.

“The Silicon Slope is creating a compelling environment for high-tech companies, says JLL’s Balderson. “This is the region to watch as it could become Silicon Valley no. 2 in the next few years.”


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