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Ancestry scores $2.4 million in tax incentives to stay and grow in Utah

Film from newspapers are scanned at Ancestry in Lehi on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.
FILE - Film from newspapers are scanned at Ancestry in Lehi on Wednesday, March 14, 2018.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The world's largest direct-to-consumer genetic testing company just got a multimillion-dollar reason to stay in Utah.

On Thursday, the Governor's Office of Economic Development's executive board voted unanimously to extend a $2.4 million, post-performance tax incentive package to based on the company's plans to make $10.5 million in capital investments in Utah while adding over 500 new employees to its rosters.

The rebate offering, which extends over nine years, is based on expectations the company will pay out some $317 million in new wages over that time while also remitting over $12.2 million in corporate, sales and payroll taxes in the period.

The Lehi-based company began life in Utah as a publisher of family history magazines and genealogy reference books back in 1983 and, according to data provided by the company, has since grown into a multibillion-dollar tech conglomerate with 3 million paid subscribers, operations in 30 international markets and a collection of 20 billion family records.

The company says it has conducted over 10 million individual DNA tests since it began the genetic evaluations in 2002.

Ancestry has also, in recent years, seen an exodus of company executives from its headquarters in Lehi to offices in San Francisco. Howard Hochhauser, the company's chief financial officer and chief operating officer, was at the board meeting Thursday and said the state's tax rebate package could play a role in the effort to bring some of those jobs back to Utah.

"Over the years a lot of the executive team has migrated from Utah to San Francisco," Hochhauser said. "In fact, I’m the last one here in Utah. This will really help … bring jobs back here and continue our growth in the state."

Hochhauser noted, in addition to adding to its current employee roster of about 1,600, the company has plans for further international expansion as well as product announcements lined up for later this year "in the health space, around our DNA product."

Governor's Office of Economic Development board member Margaret Jacobs raised a question with Hochhauser about Ancestry's approach to "protecting people's most private data, their DNA." Hochhauser said Ancestry sees its handling of submitted samples as a "differentiator" in a consumer genetic testing market that has grown substantially over the past decade and includes 23andMe, Family Tree DNA, MyHeritage and others.

"We get that question a lot from our consumers," Hochhauser said. "We take that extremely seriously and maintain high security protocols for the DNA product and have not shared it with pharmaceutical companies like some of our competitors have."

Hochhauser said his company has taken a stance "against sharing (customer DNA) with anybody" and that the samples are maintained "for the sole use of that customer" who retains "full ownership and rights to their DNA."

Social media postings erupted late last year after Ancestry updated some processes related to its DNA evaluations, resulting in sometimes profound changes to the "ethnicity profiles" it provides to customers who submit biologic samples for testing.

Last November,'s director of scientific communications Dr. Barry Starr told the Deseret News the company had greatly expanded its DNA test reference panel, a set of genetic samples that have clear connections, genetically speaking, to specific geographic regions.

Whereas the company had been using a reference panel of about 3,500 samples, it expanded that set to about 18,000 samples. Also, Starr noted the company now looks for matches in strings of DNA, as opposed to its previous technique of identifying single marker matches. Both changes are upgrades, according to Starr, which reflect ongoing advances in the bigger field of genetic research.