Although often derided in the US as one of the ‘flyover states’, Utah has in the past five years become something of a magnet for investment, attracting companies such as online retailer Ebay, aircraft manufacturer Boeing and computing firm Oracle. Indeed, between 2008 and 2013 the state recorded more than $1.8bn-worth of new crossborder projects, according to data from greenfield investment monitor fDi Markets.
Yet despite these achievements, the state is still often considered to be conservative and insular due to its large Mormon population. “We are not as remote as people think,” says Michael G Sullivan, director of communications at the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development. “You just simply need to know what the quirks are. So, for example, if you go to a restaurant, you are required to order something to eat, even if you only want to have a drink.”
But what if big city folks are not sold on these quirks? Will that hamper Utah's chances of attracting investment, especially in high-tech and creative industries, where simply claiming to be 'not that boring' might not go very far as a sales pitch? “We do not profess to be New York or San Francisco, and it can be challenging for some of our younger population to find that kind of city life,” says Kimberly Frost, director of marketing and communications at the Economic Development Corporation of Utah, a public-private partnership focusing on attracting business to the state. “At the same time, Utah attracts a different breed of people, especially individuals who like outdoor activities and mountains,” she adds.
Ms Frost, a Colorado native, is a case in point. After studying at Utah State University and working in Washington, DC, New York and India, she moved back to Utah’s capital, Salt Lake City, in 2009. As a skiing enthusiast, she can fully appreciate what Utah has to offer.
In this, Ms Frost is joined by another expat, Franz Kolb, regional director of international trade and diplomacy in the state's economic development office, who moved to the state from Austria more than 30 years ago. “I was born in Salzburg, so I basically moved from mountains to mountains. But we have here 300 days of sunshine,” he says, adding that what still impresses him about Utah residents is their work ethic and dedication to their jobs.
Indeed, the quality of Utah’s workforce was a major decider for global financial services firm Goldman Sachs when locating one of its main North American operational hubs in the state in 2005. Goldman began operations in Utah with just 200 people and a very limited scope of functions. Now the firm performs nine of its 11 critical functions in Utah, and its Salt Lake City operation has grown to 1400 people, the second largest on the continent after the company's New York headquarters, and the fourth largest worldwide.
According to Lew Cramer, former president and chief of the World Trade Center's office in Salt Lake City, when a big-name company enters the state, there is no problem convincing bright young things to call Utah home. “With Goldman Sachs we found that once [young professionals] come here, they never want to leave,” he says.