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Utah is pushing tech companies to hire rural employees — and keep them there

Posted at 3:42 PM, Sep 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-04 20:07:25-04

CEDAR CITY, Utah -- The state is pushing Wasatch Front tech companies to hire rural employees to do jobs that can be handled remotely, in an effort to boost the economies of smaller communities.

At the governor's annual Utah Rural Summit here at Southern Utah University, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the state, the Salt Lake Chamber and the Economic Development Corporation of Utah to encourage tech companies to look outside the booming Silicon Slopes for qualified employees.

The agreement has no incentives for companies (although the Governor's Office of Economic Development offers grants to companies that hire rural Utahns), but is meant to push the state's growing emphasis on telecommuting.

Cedar City Mayor Maile Wilson praised the idea.

"We have this phenomenal university, but we continue to export the students and graduates. So what can we do to keep the people here in Cedar?" she said. "That would love to be able to raise a family here and be able to live here with the beautiful scenery and everything else, but they still need to make a wage to support a family."

Tech talk dominated the governor's annual Rural Utah Summit this year, more than previous years where discussion was heavily centered on agriculture and manufacturing.

"Technology permeates everything, including agriculture," Governor Gary Herbert told FOX 13 in an interview on Wednesday.

Gov. Herbert and others participated in a competition amongst rural start-up entrepreneurs who pitched their products to win professional help boosting their business.

The winners were Mike and LeeAnn Adams, who have created the Mad Freight app that is essentially a "rideshare for freight." The governor joked he would use it with as much traveling as he does across Utah.

"I think it’s one of the main ideas we came up with this idea, just because we are rural," said Mike Adams.

In remarks at the summit, the governor conceded the rural parts of Utah have not experienced the same economic successes the Wasatch Front has.

"Rural Utah has not really been able to keep up quite like the city and the urbanized areas of the state," he said. "This gathering is designed to find ways to solve the challenges that are unique to rural Utah."

Community leaders were urged to collaborate to find resources and support as they diversify their economies, lure new companies and jobs and keep people.

"There’s no size fits all. Every community is different," Mayor Wilson said.

Still, she said, many communities can find solutions within their own borders.

"It’s nice to be able to lean into our communities and figure out what we can do to solve problems ourselves instead of always trying to look outside," she said.