Silicon Valley rose to prominence as a center for advanced engineering, high tech and all the finance and capital investment accoutrements that naturally follow, from the foundation of best-in-class higher education — with its attendant research, development and technology transfer — and an organic workforce that attracted the finest talent in the world.
While Silicon Valley still boasts some of the best tech companies found anywhere, the problems of high taxes, over-regulation and a declining quality of life (from unbearable housing costs and inescapable transportation snarls to an eroding sense of community) are driving out talent and undermining the foundation of one of America’s great economic success stories.
In many ways, the challenges confronting Silicon Valley have fueled the rise of Utah’s Silicon Slopes. Utah’s low taxes, reasonable regulations, business-friendly environment, abundant talent pool, as well as communities that nurture individuals and strong families, have attracted both business and business leaders. The challenge before us is how to keep a good thing going while taking to heart the cautionary lessons of Silicon Valley.
Borrowing from the medical profession’s Hippocratic oath, we should begin first by doing no harm, recognizing and sustaining the decisions that put Utah on top of the economic mountain. Those who helped build this environment must stay true to the principles that created our economic juggernaut. And those who relocate to join in our story should remember why they are attracted to Utah.
We welcome new members to our community. Their perspectives, knowledge, skills, diversity and creativity will be a boon to our future. Let’s borrow every good thing we can, but let’s also avoid the tried-and-failed policies of the states they are fleeing, particularly of how to build economies and run governments.
Second, we should remember where much is given much is required. The business community has a responsibility to avoid the neo-colonialism where commerce extracts all the wealth, value and resources a community has to offer and provides little in return. Businesses must be good corporate citizens, and in Utah it’s easy to see who they are, as their names are household words and adorn our gathering places as supporters of the arts, entertainment, culture and sports.
Along with lesser known, but equally important, companies throughout the state, they contribute to critical discussions concerning our environment, transportation, housing and economic policy; the strength and support of our schools; as well as the success of social objectives met through organizations like the United Way, Envision Utah, the Utah Community Builders Foundation and local chambers of commerce.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen remarkable examples of businesses that have looked beyond their own success to serve those in need. These businesses have modified their manufacturing processes to produce personal protective equipment. They have provided grants to support minority, rural and women-owned businesses. They have contributed millions of dollars in food and financial relief, all while keeping safe their own employees and customers.
In so doing, these business leaders have transcended good corporate citizenship to become corporate statesmen, and if you ask them why, they will talk about Utah’s “secret sauce” — the spirit of contribution and collaboration to build something more than a patchwork of successful singular enterprises or superstar CEOs. Upon a foundation made firm by Utah’s pioneer heritage, they are strengthening community and building a future that is lasting, inclusive and sustainable.
Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber.