Why Jobs Come to Provo, Then Leave to Go Elsewhere
Like the ebb and flow of sea tides, businesses and jobs come and go from city to city; it is the business of business.
For economic development directors like Provo‘s Dixon Holmes, it’s all about knowing what businesses want and if Provo has something to offer them.
“Jobs come and go from every city in the country,” Holmes said. “They come during good economies and bad. They locate where there is an advantage over their competitor.”
Provo has had its fair share of saying hello and goodbye to companies. One recently exiting company is Ancestry.com. It left its digs at the Riverwoods business park and moved to Lehi’s Silicon Slopes so it could draw on the workforce from both Utah and Salt Lake counties and have more room for growth.
Entrata also left Provo for the slopes. Dave Bateman, CEO of Entrata, said in a statement for Provo’s economic development office, “Our first location was a 900-square-foot warehouse in Provo, Utah. We have grown exponentially ever since.”
A handful of companies have started in Provo and have grown substantially and just need more space — space that Provo does not have to offer them.
Holmes said there are also companies that are vetting cities like Provo without ever connecting with the city.
“We are probably being vetted all the time,” Holmes said. “They get demographics from ‘data miners’ and they (companies) pay a lot of money for the information.”
Holmes said these data gathering companies or miners, not only know how residents are spending their money, but what credit cards they use. Some of these companies are more sophisticated than the cities in what information they deem is important and can get about anything concerning the area.
Provo is at a disadvantage because of the number of students that contribute to a lower median age, income and higher poverty level than surrounding cities.
“We start at a disadvantage,” said Wayne Parker, Provo’s chief operating officer. “We need to be more aggressive to get a fair consideration.”
Companies interested in moving to Provo will look for land that is prepared, what buildings are available, city amenities, services, culture of a city and much more.
If the company needs a 600,000-square-foot campus and Provo can’t provide it, they move on, Holmes noted.
Counting rooftops may not even enter the picture.
“Today, someone wanted a 300,000-square-foot building,” Holmes said. “We don’t have that.”
Parker said companies need to look at what Provo really has, including a workforce that offers more bilingual employees because of the number of LDS returned missionaries.
Some of the opportunities and challenges Provo has include: a young educated workforce, BYU/UVU, residents that are tech savvy, a medical school, low unemployment, lack of vacant buildings, lower wages, proximity to larger markets, and access to capital.
“We need to create something that generates jobs, we need to clean up land, and create a buzz around Provo,” Parker said. “We don’t do a lot of national recruiting, but when there’s a match we engage them.”
According to Holmes, it took 17 years to get the Mountain Vista Business Park to where it is today. Now businesses are being built and more are looking at what’s left of the remaining land that was once part of the Ironton steel mill.
According to Holmes, three future projects at the business park include a 60-acre development, a 20-acre development, and a 40-acre development.
The west side of Provo saw the arrival of Duncan Aviation by the airport. The company repairs private jets that come in from all over the world.
Duncan was able to get 45 acres and will build a 220,000-square-foot building, provide more than 450 jobs and is making a $70 million investment into the project.
Cities are often called upon go the extra mile in keeping and gaining high-paying businesses. About 20 years ago, Provo and the Utah Department of Transportation partnered to make an Interstate 15 interchange right into the Novell campus.
Micro Focus later purchased the Novell property. Over the past five years or so, the East Bay Business Park and former Novell complex has gone from about 50 percent full to being approximately 90 percent full, according to Holmes.
Retailers, grocery stores, and home developers also look at things differently then maybe the way the public does.
There has been much ado about Smith’s grocery store utilizing its land west of the interstate, but Holmes said realistically the company that already has a Provo store and just opened up one in Springville is not likely to cannibalize its market share.
Public/private partnerships like the Economic Development Corporation of Utah along with the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development work with local cities to bring the right business to the area.
Holmes said that several requests for inquiries have been sent to companies around the country. Keeping them here involves building relationships.
That bridge building in Provo includes working with the CEO Summit, planning business visits, 1 Million Cups, Corporate Alliance, Utah Alliance, EDCUtah, and the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce.
Daily Herald reporter Genelle Pugmire can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, (801) 344-2910, Twitter @gpugmire