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Opinion: Make sure all of Utah rises with its tech industry

It’s no secret Silicon Slopes is having a much-deserved and hard-earned moment right now. But it is not the only thing that makes Utah special

Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts
Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts talks in Lehi on Friday about the upcoming Silicon Slopes Summit event at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

A good chunk of my 16th birthday was spent begging my parents for a $400 loan so I could buy Grandpa’s 1976 Chevy. While the body of the old farm truck was red and the doors were inexplicably blue, the most prominent color was rust. That heap of rotting metal would get you where you were going, but the odds of the trip being comfortable or even pleasant were slim.

After hours of acting like I was somehow going to miraculously transform into the best son that ever lived if I were only granted the privilege of driving a vehicle that left me drenched in sweat in the summer and suffering from frostbite in the winter, my parents did what parents do best: They said no.

Then Grandma got involved. Somehow she’d caught wind of the fact that the only thing I’d ever wanted (or ever would want for as long as I lived) was the opportunity to own a truck that sounded like it suffered from black lung disease every time it fired up. Grandma told my parents I could have Ol’ Rusty if I was willing to do $400 worth of work on the farm.

I readily agreed and spent every day that summer working on the farm, dreading what would inevitably be a hot and miserable ride home.

But it was my ride home. There was a pride that came from knowing I’d earned it. My friends had much nicer cars and much richer parents, but I had Ol’ Rusty and the farmer’s tan to prove it.

It’s no secret Silicon Slopes is having a much-deserved and hard-earned moment right now. There’s never been more money, talent or resources available to startups and companies in our state’s history. We’re no longer a small community with just a few success stories. We’re a globally recognized hub for tech, business and innovation. We have the entrepreneurs and companies to prove it.

The leader of the largest company in the world, Apple CEO Tim Cook, will keynote our fifth annual Silicon Slopes Summit this week. It feels like an appropriate occasion to reflect on how we got here and consider the challenges ahead.

It used to be nearly impossible to attract talent, capital and attention to Utah’s startup and tech community. That’s no longer the case. Thanks to the hard work and passion of leaders and organizations in both the private and public sector, we’ve made it clear Silicon Slopes produces companies and leaders that rival any in the world.

It didn’t happen overnight; it took decades. We earned it. However, it is incumbent upon all of us to make certain it continues to be a source of pride.

The world has changed since we last held Silicon Slopes Summit. We’ve been through a lot, lost a lot, learned a lot and hopefully grown a lot. The pandemic has altered how we interact with each other, kept many of us from seeing each other in person, and changed how we do business in this state and around the world.

I pray our deepening divisions won’t prevent us from loving, caring and being kind to each other. We could use more grace, compassion and understanding. Silicon Slopes is not the only thing that makes Utah special. Not even close. This is a special place filled with hard-working, well-meaning folks who strive to serve and make a difference. I’m proud of how Utahns stepped up, locked arms and went to work on the challenges the pandemic created. I’m proud to call Utah home.

I believe life is as much about the chances we give as the chances we take. In the years to come, we must do everything we can to ensure the Silicon Slopes don’t rise while the rest of Utah falls.

Opportunity exists to all only if we’re willing to extend it to all. May we give a chance to anyone with a desire to take and earn it. Once earned, may they reach back to give a chance to someone new.

I’m confident Utahns are up to the challenge.

Clint Betts is the executive direction of Silicon Slopes.