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Tech industry leaders tell the Utah legislature just how they feel

Posted at 5:28 PM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-13 19:37:59-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Over a light breakfast, tech industry CEOs let members of the Utah State Legislature know just how they feel.

For an hour at the Silicon Slopes Summit on Tuesday, some leaders of Utah's biggest tech firms vented about things like liquor laws and anti-transgender legislation.

"Things like porn is a public health crisis? You laugh, but like, it's a joke," Morgan Davis, the CEO of MarketDial, told the crowd of lawmakers. "It looks really bad for us and it makes my job really flippin’ hard to do. When you do the transgender bill? Makes my job really flippin’ hard to do."

The blunt back-and-forth was designed to give Utah's political leaders and tech industry reps a chance to get to know each other and find ways to work together. Silicon Slopes, the nickname for Utah's growing tech industry, recently formed a political action committee geared toward state politics.

"We love Utah and we want to work with you," said Clint Betts, the head of the industry trade group Silicon Slopes Commons.

But tech leaders also had their own issues. Josh James, the CEO of Domo, shared a common complaint — that friends and even his wife can't order wine to be delivered to their homes like in other states.

"It makes them crazy that they can’t order a bottle of wine online," James said.

"Every time I talk to Josh, he talks about wine," quipped House Speaker Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville. "I know he's serious about that."

Silicon Slopes Commons presented a survey it conducted of employees and executives in the tech industry. It identified air quality, jobs, cost of living, politics and diversity as the top issues. The legislature didn't exactly poll well.

Among Utah tech industry executives, 43.1% said they are happy with the current makeup of the legislature, 41.6% said no and 15.1% replied maybe. Among engineers? 45% said they are not happy with the makeup of the legislature, 31.6% said they were and 23.3% said maybe.

To counter the idea that it's only "California liberals" moving into Utah, Silicon Slopes Commons said it also surveyed tech industry workers who are lifelong Utahns. 45.4% of those who responded said they were not happy with the current makeup of the legislature, 33.6% said yes and 20.9% replied maybe.

Tech is growing in importance in Utah's economy, generating billions of dollars every year.

"I don’t know the technical term, but I believe that is a sh— ton," said Blake McClary, the general manager at Divvy, who then pivoted to asking lawmakers: "What makes you guys nervous about tech?"

Senate Minority Leader Karen Mayne, D-West Valley, stood and replied: "We’re not scared at all." But she added: "I think in the legislature, government goes slow."

Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, whose district includes the Utah County side of the tech corridor, tried to explain some of the divide between tech trying to fix problems immediately and government's slow response.

"We’re trying to get the state of Utah into the 21st century," he said.

Some lawmakers tried to point to tech-friendly legislation, including a regulatory sandbox bill that passed this year, prompting one tech CEO to respond that it didn't help them at all. Another CEO said they had concerns about legislation targeting diversity.

Speaker Wilson also told the tech industry reps they had their own concerns.

"Your rapid growth, and how can we support that in a way that doesn’t create dysfunction in the rest of our economy and our state?" he said.

Sunny Washington, the head of the Slopes PAC, said it was a productive dialogue. But she noted they have issues with some of the "message bills" the legislature runs.

"Recruiting is one of the biggest issues we have in terms of retaining talent and getting people to move here," she told FOX 13. "But yeah, if we do things that sound bad and I don’t feel is very Utah, we run into issues it’ll hinder our ability to grow."

After the breakfast meeting, Senate President J. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, told FOX 13 the legislature will try to work with Silicon Slopes.

"We’re going to continue to work with the tech industry," he said. "A lot of people love Utah and I think there’s diversity in Utah. And I think we need to be inclusive of everyone and all the ideas we have in Utah."