Five Questions for GOED's Chanel Flores
For more than two years, Chanel Flores has served at the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development as cluster director for two of the state’s fastest-growing industries. In that role, Flores serves as liaison to aerospace and IT companies statewide. She supports various programs and initiatives to develop solutions for workforce challenges and collaboration. Her work ultimately supports the growth and diversification of Utah’s economy.
We caught up with Chanel shortly after the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah released a comprehensive report on Utah’s tech industry. You can find the full report here.
In your opinion, what are the biggest takeaways from the report?
Tech companies support one in seven Utah jobs, which represents a larger share of the workforce than the national average. In the last decade, growth in the tech industry grew at a rate of 4.9 percent per year, more than triple the rate nationally. In other words, we’re a concentrated market for tech.
One thing I like to point out is that wage growth in the Utah tech industry has steadily increased, and is significantly higher than other industries in the state. But we remain affordable compared to San Francisco, Denver, Austin and other tech hot spots.
Also, we naturally think about the southern end of the Wasatch Front as representing Silicon Slopes. The truth is that the entire Wasatch Front is deserving of the name. Salt Lake City itself has more than 900 tech companies, and the amount of software generated by the aerospace and defense industry, which is concentrated around Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, is astounding. The F-35 fighter jet has been called a flying computer, because it utilizes more than eight million lines of code. It takes a lot of tech jobs to keep that computer flying!
Why should out-of-state companies looking to expand from their current locales consider Utah as an option?
We have a business-friendly, cost-effective environment for companies, and we have a great quality of life too. I call it the ‘Come for the skiing, stay for the software’ effect.
But it boils down to talent. Utah has the fifth most concentrated tech workforce in the nation. You can find talent here, and our universities are producing more every day. That talent has an entrepreneurial mindset too. Think about the number of tech companies – Qualtrics, Instrucutre, Pluralsight for example – that were started by students from Brigham Young University.
The state has stood up some initiatives that reach into the K-12 age level to keep the labor pool growing in the future. These range from the STEM Action Center, the Tech Pathways internship program, and private-sector initiatives such as the Women Tech Council’s SheTech program. In addition, Gov. Gary R. Herbert, alongside the tech industry have also set a goal of having computer science taught in every school by 2022.
Can our universities produce enough talent to meet industry need?
On their own, it’s a stretch, but talent is moving to Utah. More than 40 percent of our population growth is due to net migration. Talent is moving here to enjoy the outdoor lifestyle, but they’re staying here because our tech industry has reached a critical mass. Gone are the days of Utah being a fly over state or a tourism destination, instead people are moving here for career opportunities in the booming tech industry.
Any causes for concern in the report?
Utah’s tech industry lags the nation in gender diversity. I urge all the companies I meet to focus on employee benefits that appeal to female workers, particularly those with children. This represents policies such as convenient and affordable daycare, maternity/paternity leave and flexible work schedules. We’re making progress company by company, and it’s an issue we can solve over time. Foosball and ping pong tables are great for your young, entry-level talent, but they are less impactful to a more mature, mid-career workforce that you want to retain.
What’s the biggest surprise in the report?
Defense contractor L3 Harris Technologies Inc. is our single largest tech company. That goes along with what I said earlier about the wider geography of Silicon Slopes. When you add companies such as BAE, Northrop Grumman, and others supporting Hill Air Force Base’s software engineering needs, you can see a real convergence of these two clusters.