Five Questions for Jay Francis
Last week, Jay Francis received an honorary doctorate from Salt Lake Community College. He has long championed the college and its mission, and has been instrumental in turning its annual golf tournament into a significant funding source for scholarships. Jay is executive vice president of corporate affairs and Miller Family philanthropy for the Larry H. Miller Group of companies, and a past chair of the EDCUtah board. We used this occasion to ask him for his perspective on Utah and its business climate.
How would you compare and contrast the Utah economy of today with the one of three decades ago?
JF: Back then our focus was within. Our efforts were on growing existing businesses already in Utah. Now in addition to that, we are reaching out nationally and globally to attract new business. Thanks to our strong economy, all eyes are on Utah and we’re having success bringing unique companies here.
As I think back, some moves by specific companies stand out. When Delta made Salt Lake City a major hub, things really started to blossom. Goldman Sachs is another. People forget when they first arrived here, they had a small presence in Research Park. Now they have thousands of people working in Downtown. Boeing expanding here put us on the map in advanced manufacturing. On the tech side, there are what I call the “Millennial” companies like Vivint that thrive because of our young workforce and the talent coming out of our universities.
These marquee companies give us credibility outside of the state. When people from the outside visit, they see we’ve got a good thing going in a number of industries. I think we have an opportunity to build on the momentum we have in these diverse industries. I see Salt Lake City to the north as where we can continue to grow the aviation/aerospace cluster, and Salt Lake City to the south is where our tech industry will keep growing. Right in the middle, especially with the development of the Inland Port, we’ll see manufacturing and distribution continue to expand.
What do you see as the key factors that help Utah attract new business?
JF: The quality of our workforce is key, but quality of life is a close second. We’ve got four seasons. Even if you’re not a skier, you can have fun year-round, especially in our national and state parks. Utah is a great place to raise a family, and we have good medical care. These are factors that make people want to move here.
What’s the biggest myth about doing business in Utah that you’d like to dispel?
JF: We don’t have to deal with misperceptions as much as we did in the past. We’re still viewed as “small town” but we’re not. I think the airport expansion will open people’s eyes to what we have going on here. It’s closer and more convenient for business travelers than the airports of other cities. It makes it easy to do business.
What’s your elevator pitch about EDCUtah when describing the organization to other companies and community stakeholders?
JF: EDCUtah is set up to work with state and local governments to promote Utah and attract businesses. As a private entity, EDCUtah can bring flexibility and creativity to these efforts, more so than government organizations can do.
What’s something people might not realize about the Miller Companies?
JF: Locally, folks don’t realize our scope. We have more than 60 dealerships in seven states. Our finance arm works with outside dealerships in 48 states. We have our own marketing company. Larry didn’t use the term “vertical integration” but he certainly understood the concept.
Bonus question - With Mother’s and Father’s Day coming up, what’s the best advice your parents gave you?
JF: The best advice my father gave me was to do more than what’s expected and don’t worry about getting paid for it. My mother influenced me by example - by how she cared for others.