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techsuch May 9, 2021 0 Comments

Utah’s Tech Industry is Growing. Its Lobbyists Say Utah Needs SociallyProgressive Laws To Keep It Going.Anyone driving past the Point of The Mountain from Draper into Lehi has likelyseen half a dozen cranes erecting glassy office buildings. They’re making roomfor Utah’s booming tech industry.Companies and the state want that growth to continue, but industry leadersargue that in order to do that, the state’s image needs some work.To get there, tech lobbyists are pushing for more socially inclusivelegislation at the state Capitol.They say they hope it will help attract more out of state talent — like39-year-old Kimmy Paluch.In 2018, Paluch was living in Oakland, California with her husband and theirtwo kids where they ran a consulting firm aimed at helping businesses launchnew products.“We ourselves had gotten very disillusioned with the Silicon Valley bubble,”Paluch said. “One — for the innovations that were getting funded, that theywere only serving the 1%. And then two — for the lack of capital flowing tounderrepresented founders.”She saw an opportunity to change things in Utah, where a newer tech market wasexperiencing a lot of growth. Paluch and her husband started a venture capitalfund in Salt Lake City aimed at helping startups founded by women and peopleof color. The effort was personal, too — Paluch is a Black woman and animmigrant.Beyond the career opportunities, she said they were also thrilled about makingwhat they saw as a lifestyle upgrade in Utah. They knew they’d have betteraccess to things like skiing and hiking.But Utah has a reputation problem, Paluch said.“I remember telling my Bay Area friends that were moving to Utah,” she said.“And they’re like, ‘Why are you moving to Utah?’”It’s no secret Utah is very white — three quarters of the populationidentifies that way. It’s also very Mormon and Republican. Paluch isn’t any ofthose things — not only is she Black, she’s also Catholic and politicallyliberal.Paluch said she was actually excited to live in a place with a differentpolitical climate, but the cultural differences did give her and her husbandpause.“We [did] have to think and question — will I feel like I’m part of thisstate?” she said. “I wasn’t really afraid for myself [about] being a placewhere maybe I would stick out or be asked, ‘Why are you here?’ For my kids, Iwas a little concerned. I did wonder if they would feel welcomed. Andthankfully, that’s never been an issue.”Preconceived notions about Utah’s culture is something job recruitersencounter when convincing applicants to take a job here. Companies likeMidvale-based Overstock.com have even made that part of their recruitingvideos.“So what’s so great about Salt Lake City and Utah?” one video said. “It’sprobably cooler than you think. With fantastic local breweries, clubs and liveevents, Salt Lake’s nightlife has something to offer for everyone. “‘Why Overstock’ / Career Sprout Youtube/A recruiting video for Overstock.com makes a pitch for Utah’s outdoor access,bar scene and pro sports teams to draw potential out-of-state employees to thecompany.Recruiting workers from out of state is critical to the tech industry’sability to grow here, according to Sunny Washington, a lobbyist for SiliconSlopes, the industry’s advocacy organization named after the popular term forthe industry in Utah.“For the amount of growth and the innovation that’s happening here — I wouldlove for our current student workforce to fill those jobs,” she said. “Thereality is there is just a huge gap in that and we have to recruit out-of-state.”Companies try to combat negative ideas about Utah through marketing campaignslike Overstock’s, going to career fairs and discussing the state’s culture injob interviews. But Washington said they can’t change the state’s reputationon their own.She said it’s not just concerns about being able to have a beer on a Fridaynight. It’s also political differences.That’s why Silicon Slopes has gotten involved in several high-profile piecesof state legislation related to social issues.“As much as companies try to do all the active outreach, it can honestly beundone if we have some crazy law that is not very reflective of our state,”Washington said.Washington and other lobbyists argued against an unsuccessful bill that wouldhave banned transgender girls from competing on girls school sports teams.They also supported legislation to change the name of Dixie State University.“We have a lot of work to do to make people feel like, ‘Hey, Utah is a greatplace where I can bring my family and they’re going to feel included,”Washington said.But Republican lawmakers aren’t always on board with Silicon Slopes’ ideas ofhow to make the state better. Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson, forexample, voted for the bill banning trans girls from competing in sports. Hesaid he has to vote the way he thinks is morally right and protect the Utah heknows and loves.“We see businesses or individuals move to the state of Utah because of thehigh quality of life, the great education system, the low crime rate, the lowtaxes, the entrepreneurial spirit here,” Wilson said. “And yet then the firstthing they do when they get here is they want to change some of the thingsthat have created the fabric of Utah being the strong place that it is.”At the same time, Wilson and other top Republicans pride themselves on makingUtah a business-friendly state. Just this legislative session, they passedseveral laws that cut down on regulations and revamped the state’s taxincentives for businesses.That can sometimes be in conflict, Wilson said, with preventing businessesfrom changing Utah’s identity.“We’ve got to guard against that at the same time as we need to ensure thatwe’re doing the things that will keep us prosperous and make us a great placeto keep living,” he said. “That’s a tricky balancing act.”But Paluch argued the economic opportunity that lawmakers like Wilson haveworked so hard to cultivate only matters if it’s equitably available to all.It’s not available to everyone, she said, if people don’t feel welcome comingto Utah.“This speed bump is an issue,” she said. “That we have to then wonder, ‘Will Iget the same kind of opportunity as someone else? Will I be as welcome assomeone else just because of how I look or my religion or my gender?’”Paluch said the solution can’t just be inclusive legislation at the statelevel. Private businesses also need to step up to provide more opportunitiesand funding to women and people of color.And those combined efforts, she said, can make Utah appear as welcoming tonewcomers as Paluch has actually found it to be.

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