Utah Named Top State in CNBC Ranking

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Utah was named the No. 1 state for business in CNBC’s 10th annual Top States ranking released Tuesday.

The study highlighted the state’s strong job growth, robust technology sector and industrious workforce.

“Our long traditions of collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship have earned us a spotlight on the nation’s economic map, and businesses have noticed,” said Gov. Herbert. “One shining example is the rapid growth of Utah’s tech industry—the rise of Silicon Slopes.”

Gov. Gary Herbert authored a post for CNBC’s America’s Top States for Business blog in which he discussed the economic impact of Utah’s rapidly expanding technology sector and the unprecedented partnerships that will secure the state’s economy for decades to come.

Homegrown companies like Vivint, Qualtrics, Domo and Pluralsight have made remarkable strides in the tech world, and Utah’s pro-business climate continues to attract big names such as Adobe, Microsoft, Backcountry.com and EMC.

“Today, our economy is well-equipped to remain sustainable—it is more high-tech, global and diverse,” said Gov. Herbert. “Utah has the third most diverse economy in the country, with strong representation in the technology, financial services, aerospace and life-sciences sectors, among others.”

Utah’s gross domestic product has grown from $106.3 billion to $152.5 billion in the last 10 years, and the governor attributes that success to the state’s low and consistent tax rates, limited government and ability to collaborate.

Since the Top States study began 10 years ago, Utah is the first and only state to finish in the top half in each of the competitiveness categories.

The Top States scorecard is based on more than 60 different measures of all 50 states.  

2016 Site Selector Perception Study

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Why does EDCUtah spend so much time and resources to build relationships with site selectors and commercial real estate executives?

Simply put, because site selectors are a small group of professionals who provide expert advice on locations for corporate relocation and expansion. They are some of the most influential contacts in terms of being considered for business relocation and expansion projects. More than half of the economic development projects that EDCUtah works on come to the organization through site selectors. Furthermore, some of the largest project wins, in terms of jobs and capital investment, have come through site selectors.

"Site selection was a critical component to nearly every major project that has come to Utah in the past decade," says EDCUtah President and CEO Jeff Edwards.

EDCUtah recognizes the value and importance of the site selector community and has conducted research for the past several years to survey the site selectors on a variety of topics related to economic development in Utah. By analyzing the survey data, EDCUtah has been able to refine its business recruitment model. Most recently, with support from the Governor's Office of Economic Development, EDCUtah conducted a perception study to better understand site selectors that view Utah favorably versus those that view the state unfavorably, and why.

EDCUtah reached out to 589 site selectors. Of the 589, 138 completed the online survey, representing a 23 percent completion rate. The responding site selectors fall into three categories: "promoter," "passive" or "detractor," which are similar to categories advocacy groups and other organizations use when trying to measure sentiment among their constituencies or targeted audiences. EDCUtah compared the results of this survey to previous surveys completed in 1993, 2010 and 2013. Here are some key findings:

Generally, site selectors are visiting Utah more than they have in the past.
Site selectors are exploring Utah for clients more than they have in the past.
Utah scores well in most metrics compared to other states.
Utah has a low Net Promotor Score (NPS), which is an index that measures the willingness of site selectors to recommend Utah to clients. The score is used as a proxy for gauging a site selector's overall satisfaction with Utah and loyalty to the state.
Utah has great opportunity to convert "passive" site selectors to "promoters."
"Passive" site selectors are those who are somewhat neutral in their willingness to recommend Utah to a client, whereas site selectors who are "promotors" are very willing to recommend Utah to a client.
When EDCUtah conducted its first site selector survey in 1993, 63 percent of the respondents said they had visited Utah. For this most recent survey, 89 percent of the site selectors said they had visited Utah. Meanwhile, since 2010 the number of site selectors that have recommended Utah for a project has grown from 75 percent to 89 percent.

Regarding the state's strengths, Utah's young, educated workforce ranks first among site selectors, followed by the business-friendly environment and quality of life. On the other hand, the site selectors surveyed in 2016 ranked Utah's location and transportation access as its greatest weakness, followed by its small population / lack of labor concentration and tight labor market.

When considering a given location, the site selectors identified the availability of skilled labor, low overall operating costs and business-friendly government as the three most important factors. Those who felt most strongly about those factors were more likely to recommend Utah to clients. Utah's pool of qualified, entry-level workers had the greatest impact on the likelihood to recommend Utah of any other factor. "Convincing site selectors that Utah has qualified, entry-level workers increases their likelihood to recommend the state more than any other factor," says Michael Flynn, EDCUtah's chief marketing officer.

When considering Utah's performance, the site selectors said Utah's five greatest assets are its high competitive labor costs, low overall tax burden, low construction costs, competitive incentives/tax exemptions, and low utility costs.

Regarding the site selectors with the highest net promoter scores, 100 percent of them had visited Utah and the majority thought favorably of Utah's business climate and its trajectory. Meanwhile, 91 percent of the passive promoters had visited Utah, but the majority still favorably viewed Utah's business climate and trajectory. Of the detractors – site selectors that were least likely to recommend Utah for a project – 83 percent had visited Utah and the clear majority did not view Utah's business climate or trajectory in a favorable way.

After analyzing and reviewing the survey data, Edwards says the EDCUtah team is developing a strategy to improve Utah's position in the eyes of the site selectors that are passive promoters, while strengthening and leveraging relationships with those that are active promoters of the state. "The passive site selectors are on the fence. With some effort and better understanding of Utah, they can be converted to promoters," he explains.

One of the first steps will be to invite them to visit Utah. EDCUtah has found that site selectors who have visited Utah are more likely to recommend Utah to a client. Another step will be to educate them. Edwards says 16 percent of the passive site selectors do not know about Utah's current business trajectory, while the detractors know even less. Other strategies involve overcoming industry misconceptions, especially in the financial services, IT/software development and life sciences industries.

Regarding Utah's perceived weakness in location/access, Edwards says Utah has better access and is a more strategic location than the passive site selectors and detractors realize. As for population and labor density, he notes that Utah's concentration and urbanization is not understood. To close that gap EDCUtah will develop opportunities to educate the site selectors in those two areas.

Utah's population growth, educated workforce and in-migration all serve to help overcome the perceived weaknesses. Flynn says Utah's unique population concentration, patterns, and access to labor are assets that EDCUtah will leverage in future marketing efforts to site selectors. "Many of the site selectors don't know that 80 percent of Utah's population lives along the Wasatch Front. We have great access to labor. In some instances, we just need to better demonstrate how we compare to other markets," he explains.

EDCUtah would be happy to share the full survey results with your organization. Please contact Matt Hilburn at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and he will coordinate a time to share and explain the data

Feature on our own Brad Baird

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In Economic Development, What Could be Better than a Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony?

Written by EDCUtah on . Posted in Featured Articles

Brad Baird loves ribbon-cutting ceremonies. He should – he's been to a lot of them during his 13 years as a business development manager and loaned executive to EDCUtah from Questar Corporation.

"Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are the dessert of economic development," he says. "That's where you see companies, employees, communities, government leaders and economic developers come together in celebration of a successful project."

Baird also loves rural economic development and over the course of his tenure at EDCUtah he's been involved in some big rural projects. The Procter & Gamble location and expansion project in Box Elder County stands out in his mind. It has accounted for hundreds of jobs, hundreds of millions in capital investment and millions in state revenues, he says.

Ditto for the JBS USA expansion in Cache County. Formerly Swift & Company, JBS is nearing completion of what has become a $100-million expansion of its beef processing complex in Hyrum that will retain approximately 500 jobs while adding another 120 new jobs to rural Utah. Baird says the company was in a position where it had to automate its functions in Hyrum or do it somewhere else in the company's footprint. "Winning this expansion project was a huge step in protecting Utah jobs and adding to the economy in Cache County. I've been thrilled to be a part of it," he explains.

 Also endeared on his heart is the Cabela's Distribution Center in Tooele. Baird led that economic development project for seven years before the company selected Utah. He's also had his hand in successful projects like the Home Depot call center in Ogden, which started out with 500 employees and now employs more 1,000; the Sutter Physician Services location and expansion, which began with 30 employees and employs more than 1,000 today; the Pepperidge Farm expansion in Cache County and the Metal Craft/SyberJet project in Cedar City.

"Even a medium-sized project in a rural community can be a game changer," says Baird.

A successful real estate broker with 20 years on his resume as the director of real estate for Questar, Baird came to EDCUtah for what was expected to be a one-year stint as a business development manager. He recalls being the 10th or 12th loaned executive to join EDCUtah and came to the organization when Chris Roybal was CEO. At the end of Baird's year of service EDCUtah was short-handed in economic developers and so its new president and CEO, Jeff Edwards, convinced Questar to extend Baird's service for another year. "Thirteen years later, Jeff is still convincing Questar to let me stay on at EDCUtah," Baird says with a smile.

But Baird's tenure at EDCUtah goes without complaint. In fact, he's completely ingrained in the organization and has developed a kinship with the corporate real estate executives involved in the expansion and relocation projects EDCUtah is working. "I know their jobs and what they are looking for," he explains. That knowledge stems from Baird's corporate real estate experience at Questar, where he managed a $45 million portfolio of real estate investments before the company decided to divest the portfolio and use the profits for strategic initiatives.

"My corporate real estate experience has been a particularly good fit at EDCUtah," he adds. As an economic developer, Baird says Utah is one of the best products you will find. It offers an unparalleled workforce, lifestyle, business environment and collaboration.

When he's not working an economic development project for EDCUtah, Baird is still heavily involved with corporate real estate for Questar and the distribution of real estate assets. And when he's not serving in his dual roles at Questar and EDCUtah, you're likely to find this Utah native on his Blue Spruce farm in the Heber Valley, where he has been raising trees for 25 years as part of his strategic retirement plan.

"My farm is an extension of my love for rural Utah," he says.