SALT LAKE CITY -- Welcome to the Beehive State. The Utah state symbol is not just displayed in front of the capitol building in Salt Lake City, it is also embodied in the industry that exists in this state.
But another beehive of activity are the labs at the University of Utah. These aren't just college students preparing some abstract academic exercise. They're inventing biomechanical medical products the university plans to patent and spin off into Utah-based companies.
"We've averaged over 20 a year for the past six years. We've had over 120 since I came in in 2005," said Jack Brittain with Utah Technology Venture Development.
It's Brittain's job to develop Utah's tech industry. South of Salt Lake City in the cities of Provo and Orem, entire technology business parks have recently opened. Paying for all the university professors training a high-tech workforce is a program called USTAR.
"If you look at what's happened around the country, many states have looked to their universities to do that. But what they've tended to do is build buildings. Building buildings is fine and we have a couple of buildings in our USTAR program, but unless you have the money to recruit the people to work in those buildings, it will never be successful," said University of Utah President Dr. Lorris Betz.
Utah lawmakers invest around $15 million a year into the USTAR program.
"While our national economy continues to struggle, the economy in Utah surges ahead. Our unemployment rate continues to steadily fall. We currently have the second fastest rate of job creation in the nation," said Utah Governor Gary Herbert during his State of the State Address.
Convincing Utah lawmakers to fund USTAR wasn't easy. It wasn't until the ivory towers of the university teamed up with the steel towers of business at the end of Utah's last recession.
USTAR is not expected to become profitable until it's 11th year, and over 30 years, Utah plans to invest a $1 billion. In return, the state is expecting $5 billion in increased tax revenue.
"I studied Nevada. There were several times in the late 90's and early 2000's where long term plans were built, but folks weren't able, weren't willing, perhaps, to take some of the existing revenue that was coming in and put it into a long term plan," said USTAR Executive Director Ted McAleer.
In a sense, this is a tale of two mindsets: Utahns, typically bound by a common religion and culture, often choose to stay in their state. Compare that to the transient population of Nevada, with many residents who came for jobs that no longer exist.
If past recessions are any guide, Utah invests in goals decades ahead, providing a stable, though less exciting economy. Nevada seems doomed to repeat history, hoping gaming revenues return to the point where long-term plans are ignored. Low taxes alone, according to McAleer, can't drive new industry into a state.
"One of the things we continue to focus on in Utah is what does it mean to have a trained workforce? What are the jobs of 2020?" he said.
Nevada has a program similar to USTAR called the Knowledge Fund, but state lawmakers failed to actually fund it. UNLV President Neal Smatresk says he expects funding to come with next year's budget.
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