OPINION — Southern Utah has experienced incredible growth for decades, driven mainly by real estate, hospitality and retirement. These important industries have provided opportunities for many and expanded the region’s population, but we need more to take the Washington County economy to the next level. It’s time to broaden our economic base.
In recent years, we’ve seen a handful of companies in advanced technology fields — including software, consumer electronics and aerospace, to name a few — gain traction in the greater St. George area. These companies represent the next wave of economic growth for our region and the promise of high-paying jobs and upward career mobility. We have a tremendous opportunity to lean into this homegrown technology ecosystem and take our economy to greater heights.
To make this bright future possible, we need tight alignment between the academic programs of the local university and the workforce development needs of local tech companies.
The situation in 2021 Washington County is almost identical to 2008 Utah County. Back then, Utah Valley University refined its mission to become an “engaged learning” institution focused on the combination of academic and hands-on learning.
Some initially criticized the change, but it has been validated over time. UVU is now the largest public university in Utah with 41,000 students and is a vital cog in Utah County’s well-oiled economic machine.
This is why the university’s new focus on applied learning in emerging industries is vital. As business leaders, we aren’t advocating for anything related to the name, which has been the topic of much debate, but we are vigorous proponents of a polytechnic mission that would allow students to pursue a full array of traditional academic programs and a select number of applied learning tracks in fields important to the local economy, especially business, healthcare, biotechnology, technology and engineering.
Southern Utah is an ideal place for this academic mission. Utah currently has a land grant institution in Utah State University, a Tier One research university in the University of Utah, and one of the top private religious universities in the country in Brigham Young University.
We also have a statewide system of applied and technical colleges, including Dixie Tech, which train plumbers, electricians, EMTs and more. But we don’t have a technology-focused university like Georgia Tech, Texas Tech, or Virginia Tech, which provide broad-based academic degrees, targeted applied learning tracks, and powerful athletic programs.
The time is right for this new emphasis because emerging technology industries will play an outsized role in reshaping our economic future. Southern Utah will eventually boast a technology sector on the level of Silicon Slopes in Northern Utah. For this to happen, we need a strong partnership between the business community and local higher education institutions to build and strengthen programs that produce graduates who are ready to contribute right away.
In turn, local tech companies will provide valuable and lucrative professional opportunities right here in Southern Utah, keeping talent in the community.
Across Utah, technology jobs far exceed the median state income, increasing the standard of living for our future university graduates. High-paying jobs expand the tax base and contribute to the enhancement of our community.
In addition, for every job created in tech, up to five support positions in business services and other key functions are created. Utah’s technology companies attract about $25 billion in venture investments per year, plus billions more in revenues – multiples higher than Utah’s vaunted $10 billion-per-year tourism industry – and much of that money goes straight into the pockets of highly qualified workers.
We want to build on Southern Utah’s strong foundation of grit, ingenuity, and resourcefulness and take the region to even greater heights. We want to fine-tune an economic engine where industry, academia, and government work together to grow the community and continually improve the standard of living.
Above all, we want to create an environment where nobody in our community needs to look elsewhere for a high-paying job, and no employer has to look elsewhere for a qualified candidate.
The future is ours to define. Let’s align our educational and economic interests to build an even brighter future for everyone in Southern Utah.
Submitted to St. George News by:
- Brian McCann, CEO, Intergalactic
- Brad Plothow, VP of Strategy, Intergalactic
- Gregg Robison, CEO, RAM Aviation, Space and Defense
- Gary Stone, Associate Vice President for Precision Genomics, Intermountain Healthcare
- Shawn Nelson, CEO, Lovesac
- Joshua Aikens, Silicon Slopes St. George Chapter
- Mitch Cloward, Administrator, St. George Regional Hospital
- Shayne Wittwer, Business Executive
- Bryson Despain, Founder, Rukkus
- Chip Childs, CEO & President, SkyWest Inc.
- Robert Simmons, CFO, SkyWest Inc.
- Brittany Fay, Director of Marketing, Vasion
- Clint Reid, CEO, Zonos
- Michelle Ercanbrack, Product Marketing, Zonos
Glenn Price, Founder & Managing Partner, Bondir
- Tavish Calico, Founder & Creative Director, Bondir
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