2017 Regional Report: The West is Attracting High-Value Talent

Migration—by businesses and workers—is fueling growth in America’s Western states.
UTAH Encompassing Salt Lake City, Provo and Park City, “Silicon Slopes” is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity.

More than 150 years after the California Gold Rush, Americans are again heading west, only this time they’re in search of a high quality of life and high-paying jobs. Businesses are flocking to meet the talent, and many Western states are among the country’s fastest-growing economies.

Some of the world’s largest data centers are being built in Nevada. In California, auto manufacturing is surging on the promise of clean technologies. Colorado has established itself as a global hub for cybersecurity, while Utah has carved out its own tech scene in the “Silicon Slopes.” Even in more rural states like Wyoming and Montana, there’s growing enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and tech development.


Distribution and Data Center Growth in the Desert
Nevada has seen a number of big tech investments, particularly in the Reno area. In January, Tesla Motors started production of lithium-ion battery cells at its $5 billion Gigafactory. While it’s less than 30% completed, it is projected to eventually encompass 10 million square feet and become the largest factory in the world. Apple just announced a $1 billion expansion of its data center in the Reno Technology Park, and Switch SuperNAP is constructing what will be the world’s
largest data center.

Jared Smith, COO of the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance, says there has been “growth and diversification like we’ve never seen” in the southern part of the state. While Las Vegas “doesn’t run from hospitality,” he says, it’s trying to leverage its global reputation to make it known as a great place to do business as well. LVGEA reports strong growth in manufacturing and logistics as companies seek to take advantage of the city’s fast access to West Coast ports. Amazon is building an 813,000-square-foot fulfillment center in North Las Vegas, while sports apparel retailer Fanatics is building a 400,000-square-foot distribution center south of I-15.

“Because of the excellent publicity we receive in tourism [and entertainment], economic diversification can go unnoted, but we’ve seen a lot of growth in manufacturing and logistics,” Smith says.

One challenge the state faces is education. The Quality Counts report, which ranks states on student performance, school financing and other qualities of K-12 public schools, put Nevada dead last in 2016. WalletHub also ranked it one of the least-educated states based on attainment. John Guedry, CEO of Bank of Nevada and founder of the Business + Education (BE) Engaged Summit to improve education, said it’s growing issue.


Surging Tech Growth in the Silicon Slopes
Despite being known for its national parks and open desert, Utah is considered one of the most urban states, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, with more than 90% of the population living in urban areas. Like other Western states, access to the outdoors and quality of life are significant assets in recruiting and retaining talent. A study by the Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah found that the state generated more than 109,000 jobs and $9 billion in economic activity in 2015. Medical device manufacturer Biomerics announced in April that it would spend $38.5 million to construct a new corporate headquarters in Salt Lake City, and earlier this year the state announced its Talent Ready Utah initiative to help fill 40,000 high-skill jobs over the next four years.

Val Hale, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, says that while Utah used to be “an extraction and agriculture state,” it has quickly propelled itself into the tech and aerospace sectors. “Silicon Slopes,” an area that encompasses Salt Lake City, Provo and Park City, is a hotbed of tech entrepreneurship.

The Milken Institute named the University of Utah as a top school for the commercialization of technology, and a number of locally grown startups, including Pluralsight, Qualtrics, Domo and InsideSales, have been valued at more than $1 billion each.

“We led the nation last year in technology growth with a prolific growth rate that was over 6%. We have a lot of companies that are opening, while others are coming here to branch out and expand,” Hale says. Yet Utah must manage its growth. The Census Bureau pegged it as the fastest-growing state, with a population growth rate of 2%. “Our population crossed 3 million in 2016 and it will double in the next 30 years. We live in the desert, which can pose some challenges, and we also need more talent and workers,” Hale says.


A Capital for Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity is one of Colorado’s fastest-growing industries. Stephanie Copeland, executive director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, says there are more than 100 purely cybersecurity-based companies in the state employing more than 85,000 people. Last year, Colorado Springs became the home of the newly established National Cybersecurity Center, which provides collaborative cybersecurity response services to the nation through training, education and research.


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