Not that long ago, Provo, UT, was best known for sheep ranches and Brigham Young University. Today, the region, anchored by Provo and Orem, consistently garners top rankings on “best of” lists, ranging from best for business to happiest in the country.
The Provo area has emerged as one of the country’s top tech hubs, bypassing Seattle, Dallas and Cambridge, MA, to capture fifth place on The Atlantic Cities’ list of America’s top 25 tech hot spots. Forbes says it’s the best place for business, careers and jobs. The Milken Institute ranks it the No. 2 “best-performing city.” And in April, The SpareFoot Blog named Provo the fastest-growing “on-the-rise startup hub” in the U.S.
‘A Good Place to Invest’
“There is a lot going in Provo that obviously has been very positive. Frankly, no one wakes up every day and says, ‘I’ve got to put Provo on the map.’ But a lot of people are recognizing that Provo is a good place to invest, and it’s a good place to invest for the future and a good place to invest now,” said Dixon Holmes, Provo’s deputy mayor and head of economic development.
Holmes said it’s not just businesses moving to Provo that have helped put the region on the map. It’s also businesses that have chosen to remain there.
“They like what’s offered here, and they like the minimally invasive government and the low tax burden of doing business here. A lot of people recognize that and stay,” he said.
Although Provo’s ascent seems rapid, much of the groundwork was laid years ago by the region’s tech pioneers. A number of high-profile companies such as Novell, WordPerfect, Ancestry.com and PowerQuest got their start there. And the region remains committed to incubating startups. Camp 4 is a public-private initiative that was created to give startups a running start; several other business incubators and accelerators operate in the region.
Deputy Mayor Dixon Holmes says Provo is “a good place to invest now.”
‘Really Easy to Get Started Here’
Trygve Jensen, founder and CEO of social media optimizer Engodo, a Provo-based startup, extols the virtues of the region as a startup hub.
“It’s been really easy to get started here,” said Jensen, a graduate of BYU. “Office space is cheap. You can find good advisers and mentors, and the cost of hiring talented people is a third the cost of New York or LA. You can find driven passionate people here. Everything makes the American dream a little quicker and more possible here.”
Quick access to major cities outside Utah is another draw for Jensen’s company. Nearby Salt Lake City International Airport is a hub for Delta; nonstop flights are available to more than 60 cities.
“We need to be in LA and New York all the time, but we don’t have to be headquartered there. It’s always a quick back and forth between Provo and LA or New York. And we can set up small satellite offices there,” Jensen said.
‘In the Middle of Tremendous Growth’
Of course, another feather in Provo’s business cap is its status as the third U.S. city to gain super-high-speed Google Fiber Internet and TV service. When Google Fiber was announced last year in Provo, Val Hale, president of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce, said it would further solidify the city’s standing as “the ideal place for great employees and innovators.”
The arrival of Google Fiber has drawn even more attention to Provo.
Regardless of Google Fiber, much of what’s happening in Provo is in line with what’s happening around Utah, which is one big hub for emerging technologies. Software is only part of the story today. For example, Utah has become a center for the composites industry, creating materials for industries ranging from aerospace to recreation. Various companies in Utah are engaged in advanced manufacturing for the oil and gas industries.
“Utah right now is in the middle of tremendous growth. Unemployment is at 3 percent, and we have a balanced budget and we don’t overspend,” said Bill Freeze, president of the Utah County Association of Realtors. “We are attracting major companies and major tech companies.”
Last year, Utah companies generated more than $12 billion in IPOs, mergers and venture capital investments. At a recent Deal Flow event, Drew Yergensen, vice president of Key Bank, said 2013 was the best year for such deals in Utah’s history.
Contributing to the success in the Provo area is the presence of well-educated talent. Provo is home to Brigham Young University, and Orem is home to Utah Valley University. About 93 percent of the adults in the region have earned high school diplomas and 42 percent have college degrees. Nearly half of Provo’s residents speak a second language.
What keeps college graduates in the area? Among the reasons are a highly touted quality of life, low housing and energy costs, and a range of outdoor activities.
“The current success is often attributed to a young, educated workforce, but there are also a lot of people who have been here for a long time and their efforts have just come to fruition,” Holmes said.
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