Editor’s Note: This past week, Drew Clark’s column in the Deseret News of Salt Lake City, Utah, was on the “The zeitgeist of modern Provo: Jobs and a good quality of life.” Click here for links to all of his Deseret News columns.
PROVO — What do you get when you cross a thriving technology and startup community with what Gallup called “the best place to live in America“?
That’s the zeitgeist here in Utah County. It’ll be celebrated with a new technology, business and cultural event here, dubbed Startfest, beginning on Monday, Aug. 31.
And because of the still-coalescing cultural power of information and communications technologies, Utah as a whole is sending a message to the world: Citizens of a particular city or region are no longer necessarily forced to choose between quality of life and economic opportunity.
Utahns, whether natives or migrants, have always taken pride in their state. That’s always been exceptionally true at the heart of Utah Valley, occasionally referred to as “Happy Valley.”
Yet in decades past, the happiness tended not to apply to career opportunities.
“When I attended Brigham Young University in 1985, we knew we’d have to leave the state to get a good job,” said Provo Mayor John Curtis. “That was our world and our paradigm.”
Today things are completely different, said Curtis. Those attending BYU enjoy a rather different economic and cultural vitality.
Curtis was speaking last November at BYU’s Marriott School of Management at another event of Beehive Startups, a less-than-2-year-old humming company. Now it’s putting on Startfest with Google Fiber, Peak Ventures, the organization Silicon Slopes and others. The festival promises more than 196 events across 13 venues in downtown Provo.
Among the speakers will be both Gov. Gary Herbert and his technology industry challenger, Overstock.com Chairman Jonathan Johnson. Others on the agenda include the CEOs of booming Utah tech companies Qualtrics, Domo, Pluralsight, MX, Maritz CX and many more, including Curtis.
Several of the tracks are devoted to enhancing the role of women in technology, business and the communications industry: Gail Miller of the Larry H. Miller Group on “I never wanted to be a businesswoman,” plus a Degreed executive on “reaching 50-50 gender balance in tech and entrepreneurship in Utah.”
The six-day event has also been timed to coincide with Provo’s “Rooftop Concert Series,” showcasing local bands, and the smartphone-focused Pocket Film Fest. It will conclude with an all-night “hackathon” devoted to helping develop applications for gigabit fiber connectivity.
The broader event is certain to include signature Utah cultural moments, too. Among the speakers will be local heroes like Tim Ballard, the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, Studio C stars Matt Meese and Mallory Everton, plus the marketing manager for the Mormon Channel and the up-and-coming DJ Kaskade.
It will also launch the “Beehive Awards,” which will recognize community heroes who overcome great obstacles to put others before themselves.
Stepping back, consider the attributes that are driving Provo, and Utah, so high in so many rankings of livability.
Gallup used six factors: Life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities.
These criteria aren’t all that different from what cities everywhere are looking for. In addition to jobs, educational institutions and health care are cultural and natural resources, plus good-quality infrastructure that make an area suitable for both established businesses and entrepreneurs.
It’s as if distance and region are irrelevant. A generation ago, Provo was a city of a completely different character from New York City or San Francisco. Today, each of these and others are competing to be a magnet for young talent.
For Clint Betts, the organizer of the event, this new Startfest does something different and bigger than the StartSLC conference he hosted at the Gateway Center in Salt Lake City just seven months ago.
“While the goal will always be to highlight and showcase Utah’s startup and tech ecosystem, StartSLC was more like a regional event,” he says. “StartFest is a national event that happens to be in Utah.” And he’s expecting entrepreneurs and venture capitalists from Silicon Valley, Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.
“As much as there is this amazing tech and startup community in Utah, historically even now it keeps to itself,” Betts said. “Our goal is to bridge that divide” between techies and the rest of the state.
Mayor Curtis is a firm believer of that power of technology. “Had I enjoyed the resources you had, I wonder how my life would be different. If I had gigabit speeds, or even the Internet,” he said, his thoughts trailing off at last November’s event.
Then, turning to the youngish crowd at BYU last year, he said, “I am so jealous of you: This is such an unbelievable time!”