As many Utahns know, there’s an official and unofficial line of demarcation at the Salt Lake County-Utah County line.
It stops some students from considering enrolling at the University of Utah. It may inhibit U graduates from applying for jobs in Utah County south of the Silicon Slopes corridor. And due to state law, it literally blocks the university from establishing a satellite campus outside Salt Lake County.
This week, University of Utah President Taylor Randall and other campus leaders crossed that boundary to make the case for the U. in unexpected territory.
“We’d love to have more red down here,” Randall told executives of digital services company Podium at the first stop of the day-long road trip.
On the third leg of his statewide Utah Across Utah tour, Randall, a group of U leaders and State Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Woolstenhulme traversed Utah County from Lehi’s tech center to the BYU Creamery in Provo and back to the Point of the Mountain. They met with elected leaders from Utah County to discuss university priorities; talked internships and recruitment with executives from Podium and essential oils and wellness company doTERRA; explored Geneva Rock’s sustainability innovations; and wrapped up with an overview of “The Point” and a higher education “hub” at the former Utah State Prison site in Draper.
At Utah County businesses, the conversation focused on placing U students in internships—through summer intensive programs including the Kahlert Initiative on Technology—and facilitating businesses’ recruitment efforts once they graduate.
“It’s so much more difficult to hire people than it was four or five years ago. A lot of companies have realized there’s a lot of great talent here in Utah,” said Eric Rea, Podium founder and CEO. “The No. 1 thing you could do is increase [computer science and engineering graduate] capacity. We’ve had to start hiring engineers from Brazil. It would be a lot easier for us to hire from here.”
In turn, Randall had a request: Please support the university’s bid for state funding to complete a new computer science building, he asked Podium’s founders. Donors John and Marcia Price have provided a leading gift of $15 million for the 209,000, six-story building. But the project’s $120 million price tag will require legislative and industry support.
The U educates 46% of the state’s computer science and computer engineering graduates, Randall noted, but “we have students sitting the aisles of our auditorium right now.”
A letter from Podium could help prioritize the classroom and office building project during the upcoming 2023 Utah Legislature, the president added.
“We always want to hire the best,” Lindley said. “We’re always looking for avenues to identify those students as interns and then hire them as scientists and business executives.”
Human Resources Director Chris Farnsworth said the company is hoping to push past the imagined barriers at the county line and expand its workforce with Salt Lake County residents. As part of that effort, doTERRA executives are pushing to get a Frontrunner train stop nearby and provide transit passes to workers. About 20 percent of doTERRA’s employees work remotely.
“We’ve done a little bit of recruiting at the U, but we’d like to do more,” Farnsworth said.
Next, the university executives met with elected officials from Provo City, Utah County and the state legislature to discuss breaking down the existential barriers between the U and Utah Valley—traditionally the stomping ground of arch sports rival Brigham Young University.
“We are here to increase the reach and expand the impact of the state’s flagship university. We’re not afraid of competition,” Randall said. “But it is so easy to think competitive first. We plan to lead with humility. We want to work in a unified way with our sister institutions.
“Each of the eight state institutions of higher education have remarkable strengths—things I cannot replicate. At the end of my tenure, I want to be remembered as a president who was a partner.”
At the final stop—Point of the Mountain overlooking the former Utah Prison site—the university team met with Alan Matheson, executive director of the Point of the Mountain State Land Authority, and Republican State Rep. Jefferson Moss, the Point’s Innovation Project director.
With inmates moved to a new prison west of the Salt Lake International Airport, plans are coalescing for the first 60-acre phase of the 608-acre project just west of I-15, Matheson said. The “sustainable innovation community” could include research space, retail shops, offices, housing, an entertainment district, a “river-to-range” park trail and an internal circulator transit system.
“Part of that is creating a place that attracts talent. Part of it is making it a place people want to be with programming. And part of it is facilities,” said Matheson. “It’s all about higher education. Higher education is such a critical part of innovation, generating ideas. We view it not as a nice to have, but as an essential.”
And Moss credited a visioning committee convened by Natalie Gochnour, Kem C. Gardner Public Policy Institute director, for advancing discussions of plans for the space.
“I’m looking at this through the lens of or the whole state—bringing every institution together,” Moss said. “We would not be even as close to where we are without the U.’s engagement.”