SALT LAKE CITY — The leaders of Silicon Slopes insist they don't want to turn Utah into California.
"We’re not trying to turn Utah into Silicon Valley. I can promise," Clint Betts, the head of Silicon Slopes Commons, the industry group representing Utah's tech sector, told an applauding crowd at the start of Thursday's Silicon Slopes Summit.
In an interview with FOX 13, Betts said he had heard the comparisons between Silicon Slopes and Silicon Valley.
"There was a remark I heard recently where we don’t want Utah to turn into California. It was directed at the tech community," he said. "We don’t either. If we wanted to work and live in California, we’d live in California."
But the comparisons are repeated and inevitable as Utah's tech industry grows in power and influence. According to the University of Utah's Kem C. Gardner Institute, tech accounts for one in seven jobs across the state and makes roughly $20 billion.
Silicon Slopes recently launched a political action committee geared toward state politics and on Wednesday hosted a breakfast with members of the Utah State Legislature, where comparisons to Silicon Valley were also made. Betts even posed the question during a chat with Governor Spencer Cox on the stage.
"Certainly that tension is there," the governor said, adding: "I think it’s helpful to remember why we love Utah, what is it that is created the culture that makes so many thrive and be successful here. And if we’re intentional about that, if we’re intentional leading the nation in upward mobility? That means not pricing people out. That means lifting people up, give back. That’s the expectation we have."
Utah has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, but is also facing problems with affordability, housing and employment shortages.
"I don’t think Silicon Slopes is becoming Silicon Valley," said Jonathan Johnson, the CEO of Overstock, one of Utah's original tech giants. "If we’re becoming anything like them, it’s largely in good ways. There’s more talent here, there’s people to draw from."
Johnson, who once ran for Utah governor, said the state needs to pay attention to tech — for its economic future.
"Tech is only going to grow and if we don’t keep up with it, it’s going to grow somewhere else," he said.
Betts told FOX 13 he believes Silicon Slopes can take steps to address common issues like air quality, housing and cost of living.
"I think our community has a responsibility to step up and take on the challenges that come with the success of our industry," he said.
While the tech industry is experiencing rapid growth (and growing pains), one thing they may not be getting from the state in the future is incentives. Gov. Cox hinted in his remarks at the Silicon Slopes Summit that economic incentives to lure companies to Utah may be coming to an end, given how much the state is booming economically.
"We don’t need to attract every single job to the Salt Lake Valley anymore, there are other places in the state where we are struggling where we should be focused," he said.
Betts agreed that even tech ought to explore outside the area along the Salt Lake-Utah County line commonly known as "Silicon Slopes."
"We need to create opportunity for all. Silicon Slopes is not just Provo to Ogden," he said. "It’s all of Utah."