Snapshots: 60 Seconds with Val Hale, Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development

Val Hale, Executive Director, Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development discusses the Beehive State's growing financial services sector, its position as a data centers hub, and efforts to keep its growing youth population living and working in Utah.

Val Hale Utah economic development
Val Hale, Executive Director, Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development

By the BF Staff
From the September/October 2016 Issue

Business Facilities: Snap Finance recently announced an expansion of its Utah headquarters. Are you expecting significant growth in Utah’s financial services sector this year?

Val Hale: The state of Utah has experienced significant economic growth over the past decade and hopes to continue to do so. Financial services is one of our fastest-growing industries with 2015 employment increasing more than six percent to nearly 75,000 jobs. We have what I call “anchor” institutions in this sector such as Fidelity Investments, Wells Fargo, Zions Bank and Goldman Sachs. Goldman Sachs has its second-largest North American operation in Salt Lake City. The state is also home to 15 active industrial banks with assets totaling $137 billion.

The state is a high-tech hub, so it’s no surprise that Utah is seeing traction in the financial technology space, or “fintech” for short. Companies launching operations in Utah include ZipBooks, SoFi, Entrata and, as was mentioned, Snap Finance. I’ll also highlight startups like Homie, a peer-to-peer real estate marketplace designed to save clients thousands of dollars in commission fees. The company received a technology commercialization grant from GOED and has raised more than $4 million to date.

BF: Is Utah’s strong position as a data centers hub helping the state attract new digital startups? Is the digital media sector continuing to expand?

VH: Data centers often attract additional economic development opportunities, and we experience that with eBay and Oracle in Utah. Both companies invested in further expansions in the state and spurred development in their respective communities. Our low utility costs, broadband infrastructure and cool climate are extremely attractive to innovative data center projects. Naturally, increased cloud technology and services like C7 and Domo have followed as well as world-class database access such as

Digital media continues to expand in Utah. The University of Utah’s Electronic Arts and Engineering program is rated as the top video game program in the country by Princeton Review. Utah Valley University, Salt Lake Community College and Dixie State University have growing digital media programs that produce research and products for use in fields ranging from entertainment to medical diagnostics. The Utah Digital Entertainment Network unites Utah groups like Chair Entertainment (known for “Infinity Blade” games), Wildworks (developer of Animal Jam, the largest kids social/educational network in the world), and the VOID (immersive virtual reality experience).

This past year, AdWeek declared Utah is “poised to be America’s next tech and creative hub.” Devin Graham (DevinSuperTramp) from Utah County has more than 4 million subscribers receiving 25—40 thousand views per video post. Most of his videos were filmed in Utah. Last year, the Utah Film Commission and Utah Digital Entertainment Network hosted the first Digital Content Creators MeetUp in order to engage and promote the creative talent in new platforms. It has become an annual event, and we expect attendance at this year’s MeetUp to triple.

BF: Utah has the fastest-growing population, with a burgeoning youth demographic. Are the state’s workforce development initiatives succeeding in keeping home-grown talent in the Beehive State?

VH: Our workforce pipeline includes more than 600,000 K-12 students, and the state of Utah has the youngest median age in the country (30.2). Our population is expected to nearly double by 2050, and we’re mindful of this growth as we plan for future workforce initiatives.

Our Pathways program is one effective model we are strategically implementing. The Pathways program is an unprecedented partnership between industry and education that aligns high school students on the fast track to fill our most pressing workforce needs. Pathways began with aerospace manufacturing. Since then, we have launched similar programs in diesel technician positions and medical product innovation.

Our well-connected STEM Action Center also provides several initiatives aimed at long-term workforce solutions. STEM targets our youngest population and provides K-12 students the right opportunities. Our workforce development efforts are ever-focused on aligning education with industry needs.

BF: The NSA’s National Cybersecurity Center has given Utah a leadership position in the cybersecurity growth sector. Is the center drawing other cybersecurity projects to Utah? What is your estimate for the job-creation potential of cybersecurity for Utah?

VH: The NSA has certainly put Utah on the cybersecurity map, and leading cybersecurity companies such as FireEye have opened operations in the state. Many of the factors that support data center growth apply to this sector as well.

If you take a step back and look at the job market as a whole, there is a need for cyber experts across multiple industries. There are openings in Utah at Boeing, Rio Tinto, USANA and Swire Coca-Cola just to name a few. This is a need that crosses the entire spectrum of our economy and this need will only continue to grow.

The next important question: Are we training new talent in these disciplines? I’m happy to say there are active programs at Brigham Young University, Southern Utah University, Salt Lake Community College and Utah Valley University. University of Utah also has similar curricula and houses the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute, one of the top “big data” training grounds globally.

BF: GOED recently approved incentives for UPS’ new regional package operations facility in Utah. Is Utah fulfilling its ambition to be the “Crossroads of the West” in terms of logistics and distribution?

VH: If you map the rail lines, highways and broadband coverage in the Western U.S. all converge on Utah. The state is a one-day or less drive from almost every major Western U.S. city, reaching approximately 65 million people. Rail lines link us to major seaports in L.A., Oakland, Portland and Seattle. Salt Lake City International Airport, Delta’s Western Hub, offers 625 daily flights serving more than 20 million people each year—and its $1.8 billion expansion project is well underway. Sweetening the deal, SLC International ranks fifth in the U.S. for on-time departures.

Our status as a major crossroads makes us a growing hub for major industries including outdoor products. Lifetime Products, Liberty Mountain, Amer Sports and Specialized Bicycle have active distribution operations in Utah. Companies from UPS and Cabela’s to US Foods and Wal-Mart recognize the benefits of our existing and future infrastructure.