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Biggest, newest roads in Provo lead to Novell

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All new roads lead to Novell, at least the biggest and newest one in Provo, ensuring the network software giant will stay in the city.

Utah's second largest high-tech firm broke ground Monday afternoon for an $80 million expansion of its Provo campus on what was once part of the back nine of East Bay Golf Course.Earlier in the day, city officials opened a thoroughfare just south of the company linking University Avenue to State Street, the first phase of a multiphase road construction project that helped secure Novell's future in Utah Valley.

Eric Schmidt, Novell chairman and CEO, reaffirmed Novell's commitment to the Beehive State just before turning the first mound of earth with a bulldozer.

"We'll be here for a very long time, a hundred years, maybe long-er," he said.

Local government leaders feared in the early 1990s that Novell might unplug itself and head to its other anchor site in San Jose, Calif., where it had just bought a large tract of ground. Novell was landlocked in Provo, and getting in and out of the company's offices proved a harrowing experience for workers.

But the fretting subsided when Provo sold the company 16 acres of the golf course in 1991 and then-Gov. Norm Bangerter promised to reconstruct the dangerous I-15 interchange at University Avenue where Novell founder Ray Noorda's life flashed before his eyes in a near-miss traffic accident.

The Utah Department of Transportation is currently finishing up a $14 million freeway off-ramp that goes directly into Novell. The company loaned the state $6 million for the project.

Officials are also trying to assemble an estimated $42 million to widen I-15 between the University Avenue and Center Street exits. Provo just completed a $14.6 million east-west corridor at 1860 South behind the Novell campus.

"It had to get done first," Schmidt, who took Novell's helm 13 months ago, told the Deseret News. "It was one of the key things."

Although the projects are nearly a decade in the making and counting, Schmidt crows about how quickly things have moved. "What I like about Utah is this stuff just happens. It takes 20 years in California."

A lot of local politicians would argue with that, having had to grind out every dollar earmarked for the road projects. When the construction dust settles in a few years, federal, state and local government will have shelled out at least $70 million on streets and bridges in south Provo.

First-term Mayor Lewis Billings believes it's money well spent.

"You've got a lot of Utah's economy hanging right on this interchange," he said.

Novell has bout 2,500 workers in Utah. It ranked No. 1 in terms of high-tech revenue in the state until last year when Iomega surpassed it, according to the Utah Technology Information Association. The Roy-based maker of computer data storage products made $1.7 billion in 1997 compared to just more than $1 billion for Novell. Iomega employs fewer people (about 1,400) than Novell.

"It has been, is and will be a significant part of Utah's economy," said Peter Genereaux, president of the Utah Information Technology Association.

Novell's new eight-story building will contain 388,000 square feet of office and laboratory space. The structure will double the size of the company's current six-building headquarters in Provo. Novell intends to consolidate its Utah operations when the building is complete in January 2000.

Combining the Utah work force parallels a similar move in Silicon Valley where Novell is nearing completion of an entirely new campus. But Utahns apparently don't have to worry about the company ever heading west.

John Slitz, Novell vice president for marketing, said he doesn't think Novell's plan to expand in Utah ever swerved, but there were some bumps in the road.

"This is where we were born. This is where we're growing," he said.