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Create a sustainable tech ecosystem

Photo of Erin Mendenhall in front of a white board with an illustration of her tech ecosystem plan

We need to start attracting the innovating jobs of the future

Image of pages of Erin Mendenhall's tech ecosystem plan with the words DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE PLAN

As our city grows, we must do more to shape an economy that is diverse, resilient, and more broadly distributes good jobs, opportunity, and security. The tech sector is the fastest-growing and highest-paying industry in the state, accounting for one in seven jobs in 2018 and more than 16 percent of all worker earnings, generating upwards of $2.5 billion in state and local tax money.

Jobs in technology are the jobs of the future, but they are not simply going to materialize here. Utah’s capital city should be the state’s most welcoming to innovation and progress, yet extraordinary opportunities keep slipping through our fingers to the suburbs. Salt Lake City needs a mayor who will create the kind of climate that will attract and support entrepreneurs and businesses that help us meet the needs of our capital city.

We need to grow our city in a way that values diversity and sustainability, and improves the lives of all our residents, so we need to focus on bringing tech businesses into our city that want to be part of the city’s progress. New businesses will expand our city’s tax base, which creates a new opportunity to reinvest these dollars back into the community in meaningful ways that will improve the lives of Salt Lake residents. Sustainable growth means environmental, social, and financial long-term stability that supports the unique needs of the city it relies upon. Sustainable growth includes, among others: digital equity, low-emission and no-emission buildings, and wider access to convenient and affordable public transit and housing.

The University of Utah is graduating our future leaders, yet our city doesn’t have enough high-paying jobs to keep these young minds here. The Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute is a nationally ranked hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation at the University of Utah and an interdisciplinary division of the David Eccles School of Business. Growing our tech sector will help create the jobs that our community needs to keep our young people here.

As mayor, Erin will nurture a sustainable tech ecosystem in Salt Lake City into reality.

WHAT WE ALREADY KNOW

Although other major cities around the country have successfully built their own tech ecosystems, it has not yet been tried in Salt Lake City. Through her work on the City Council and with the National League of Cities, Erin has met with other municipal leaders and leaders in the technology sector to gain a better understanding of the economic, academic, political, and cultural elements necessary for growing a vibrant tech sector.

There are at least four areas of great interest to tech leaders in which Salt Lake City already excels:

  1. A number of high-quality colleges and universities producing talented, educated workers in advanced fields. Salt Lake City is producing an army of innovative and highly-qualified college graduates. The University of Utah was ranked 9th for entrepreneurial studies by the Princeton Review, 19th among health care institutions worldwide for scientific research, and 33rd in the world last year in an index of universities earning utility patents. In 2017, the Millken Institute rated the University of Utah the best American university for the commercialization of technological innovations, saying the U had “quietly evolved into one of the most prestigious research universities in the United States with a strong emphasis on commercializing its research.” We need to make sure the innovations happening in Salt Lake turn into businesses and jobs in Salt Lake.
  2. Our welcoming, urban, and socially progressive community confounds expectations and is valuable for attracting young tech entrepreneurs and talent. Thirty-three percent of the University of Utah’s incoming class are people of color — a diverse talent pool that will have access to a quality job market in a city that supports tech. The tech sector, in particular, attracts workers and investors from all around the world and it’s important that our local community not only reflects that diversity, but embraces it.
  3. A high quality of life and a young, vibrant culture is also key to attracting the kinds of technology entrepreneurs and talent we need here, and Salt Lake City has a wonderfully exciting culture. Proximity to five national parks, Wasatch Front and back ski resorts, and trail systems within and adjacent to the city make this an attractive location for tech talent.
  4. Our growing international airport is critical to companies doing business in an increasingly interconnected global economy. The new, modern airport will be more convenient for travelers, friendlier to the environment, and better equipped to handle the needs of a rapidly growing regional economy. As a Delta hub, Salt Lake City outcompetes other cities in the region for the most convenient travel opportunities.

There are also six areas we already know limit the interest of tech leaders in doing business in Salt Lake:

  1. Salt Lake City has a reputation for being hostile to businesses — especially to startups — that must be changed. This will require a blend of steps to make it easier and more efficient to work with city government. The next mayor of Salt Lake City needs to send a clear and consistent message to business leaders that they — and their innovative, sustainable, good-paying jobs — are welcome here and that we are ready to work with them.
  2. The poor quality of our air makes it less appealing for would-be employees to move to Salt Lake City, especially workers with families. Improving our air quality isn’t just a health issue — it’s an economic one too. As the CEO of one tech company told Erin last month: “Air quality is the No. 1 issue every out-of-state candidate brings up during the candidate-acquisition process, and when you are competing with Google or J&J to land a candidate, these things matter.”
  3. The state of Utah’s reputation for the poor treatment of women is deterring women from moving to Salt Lake City to work here. In August, WalletHub rated Utah as the nation’s worst state for women’s quality for the second year in a row. A 2018 study by researchers at the University of Chicago found Utah to be the second most-sexist state in the country. There is no shortage of reasons why Utah needs to treat women better than it presently does, but this is certainly one of them.
  4. The lack of affordable housing inventory in the city turns off business leaders worried about where their employees will live and the lengths of their commutes. Erin’s plan to expand affordable housing builds on the city’s own Affordable Housing Plan to grow inventory throughout the city and for all housing-size needs.
  5. Salt Lake City’s transit system needs to keep growing to make it easier for employees to get to and from their offices. We will have to make it easier and more affordable for people to live and grow in Salt Lake City. Our city’s recent Transit Master Plan shows where future transit needs to go to make the system more convenient than driving.
  6. A general lack of understanding of Salt Lake City’s academic credentials is holding us back. Not enough leaders outside our city appreciate the high caliber of research technology education offered by the colleges and universities in and around the city, the University of Utah and Westminster least of all. Partnership between Salt Lake City, local universities, and the business community is a path proven by cities around the country to set a vision for and help create a sustainable tech ecosystem.

Building a tech ecosystem and attracting the jobs of the future will require engaging Salt Lake City’s business, academic, scientific, and labor communities. It will take real steps to improve the way Salt Lake City operates, and partnering with business leaders in Silicon Valley and around the world about the opportunities Salt Lake City offers. We can do it, but only if we work together with the leadership of a mayor with the right experience and vision to lead the effort.

POLICY COMMITMENTS

As mayor, Erin will:

Convene a multidisciplinary task force to explore and guide possible actions

The office of mayor will convene a task force with leaders from the tech sector, Silicon Slopes, the business community, surrounding universities, labor, and other communities to build strong partnerships and better understand the challenges and opportunities associated with nurturing a sustainable tech ecosystem in the city. The group will work to identify and recommend specific actions to be taken by the city government, universities, and other stakeholders, then monitor and advise progress of implementation.

Launch a targeted education campaign to promote Salt Lake City to innovators and business leaders

It’s not enough to offer incredible amenities, we need to share those opportunities with the entrepreneurs and innovative leaders around the country and the world who could be attracted to doing business here in Salt Lake. The effort to create a sustainable tech ecosystem in Salt Lake City will most assuredly require an educational, marketing, and outreach campaign aimed at key business leaders, researchers, and technologists. The substance and scope of that effort will largely be shaped by the efforts of the task force.

Focus outreach on businesses that will invest back in our city

Not all jobs are created equal and the city should not pursue every new job creator with the same fervor. As mayor, Erin will recruit and embrace businesses aligned with our city’s commitment to sustainable development, good pay, union labor, and fair treatment of workers. Erin will prioritize businesses that help increase the city’s tax base, allowing the city to increase funding and partnerships for affordable housing, implementation of the Transit Master Plan, and improvements to our air quality.

It is just as important that the businesses that come to our city help create equitable communities. While growth is important for our city’s future, it’s critical that growth is equitable and accessible to residents across our city. Tech is the future of our economy; by getting in at the ground level and creating intentional partnerships we can ensure that growth in our city benefits everyone.

Make Salt Lake City friendlier to entrepreneurs and innovators

Salt Lake City has a lot to offer the small business and entrepreneurial community, yet we lose a lot of businesses to the suburbs. We need to make it easier for businesses to get started in Salt Lake City by updating and improving the city’s permitting processes and explore grant programs to assist low-income entrepreneurs in business creation. As mayor, Erin will conduct an in-depth review of Salt Lake City’s codes and regulations to ensure that we are making it easy for entrepreneurs — especially innovative researchers from local universities — to grow their business here in our city.

Create apprenticeship programs for youth

Apprenticeship programs make it possible for young workers to get the kind of on-the-job experience it takes to work and grow in a number of industries. Communities that have a robust culture of apprenticeship have a competitive advantage because they offer a continual pipeline of qualified workers for businesses in their city. We will build that pipeline with educators and tech businesses already in the city, and expand those apprenticeship programs through partnerships as the tech ecosystem begins to form. Erin will ensure that apprenticeship programs promote equity in education and access to opportunities across the city — based not on a student’s geographic location, but on their desire to learn and work in the tech sector. Salt Lake City’s Youth City program and the Salt Lake City School District are excellent opportunities to build collaboration for education and support with the tech industry.

Bring in tech as a partner in growth

Salt Lake City is on course to double its population in the next 30 years. As we plan for that growth, we have an exciting opportunity to invite the growing tech sector be our partners in growth. The tech industry shares many of the same concerns as our residents: air quality, affordability, transportation, and diversity. Employers in the tech industry tell us their workers want to live and work in a city with the best possible air quality, diversity that is celebrated, convenient and affordable transit options, and housing within a vibrant cultural and business community.

The incredible Platform for Open Wireless Data-driven Experimental Research (POWDER) — a partnership between the University of Utah, Salt Lake City, and the Utah Education and Telehealth Network — is deploying experimental, next-generation 5G wireless networking throughout the city and is a great example of how the tech sector can be an active partner in growing our city. As we expand our tech industry, we have the opportunity to bring innovative businesses to our city that are serious about helping find solutions to our air quality problem, including ways to help their employees use public transit and telecommute.

Expand the city’s transit system and allow more businesses to purchase bulk fares for employees

Erin is committed to expanding Salt Lake City’s public transportation system and making it more geographically equitable so residents in every neighborhood can access all the economic opportunities the city has to offer. Erin will work with UTA to begin the transition to an all-electric fleet as soon as possible to further reduce emissions. Her administration will work to expand discount transit pass opportunities to startup and mid-sized businesses to increase accessibility to the entire Salt Lake City workforce. Currently, only very large employers, like Zions Bank, Goldman Sachs, and the Church of the Latter Day Saints, are able to purchase discounted transit passes at bulk-discount rates for their employees.

Promote digital equity

The long-term needs of our economy require that we fully address digital equity within our city. Access to digital information systems is necessary for full participation in our society, democracy, and the economy. There is simply no excuse for parts of the city to have less opportunity to connect to the internet than others, or for any of our residents to miss out on opportunities to improve their digital literacy. Erin will build on Mayor Biskupski’s digital inclusion plan and incorporate it into the city’s master plan. Erin will work within City Hall and with our future partners in the tech sector to ensure every neighborhood has equal access to the modern digital economy we build in Salt Lake City.