Darren Shepherd didn’t think he was on the radar for Questar Gas Company’s loaned-executive program when the opportunity came in 1999 to work six months to a year at the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.
“The offer caught me completely off guard and I felt a little apprehensive at first,” Shepherd reflects. Stepping aside from everything he was doing at Questar meant he might not have the same job when he returned to the utility company – but he was guaranteed to have a job. With that much of a promise, he left his corporate communications post and became a business development manager at EDCUtah.
“My initial apprehension was quickly replaced by a feeling of value and I am grateful for the time I was able to work for EDCUtah,” he continues.
Questar’s robust loaned executive program began under the direction of Don Cash, former Questar Corp. president, and Nick Rose, former Questar Gas president, and it has lasted nearly two decades. Shepherd says Cash and Rose shared a deep commitment to grow Utah’s economy and felt the loaned executive program could help EDCUtah take root and become the effective economic development organization that it is today. Consequently, Shepherd was the third of eight loaned executives to work at EDCUtah. The other executives include:
Most of the loaned executives spent between six and nine months at EDCUtah. Butcher was the first loaned executive from Questar to take on the role of EDCUtah economic developer. That was in the mid-’90s when he was working in economic development within Questar’s marketing department. Reflecting on the experience, Butcher says he can see why the utility company wanted to partner with EDCUtah. “There was a strong desire by Questar management to assist with economic development, but it also made a lot of business sense to bring junior executives in-house at EDCUtah, where they could gain experiences working with local and state government leaders and private enterprise in an unusual way.”
For Questar, loaning its executives proved to be an excellent training ground that opened doors to experiences with state legislators, the governor’s office, city and county leaders and industry executives. “We learned things that we may not have had the opportunity to learn and experience otherwise, and I think it made Questar’s business and its partnerships even stronger,” Butcher adds.
Being able to recruit out-of-state businesses to Utah was one of his favorite experiences, he notes, because it provided the opportunity to understand what businesses require in order to flourish, and also provided a unique perspective regarding how economic development impacts the state and adds to the quality of life. Today, as the vice president of government relations for Questar Corporation, Butcher says he still benefits from the experiences he shared while on loan to EDCUtah.
Shepherd came on board at the tail end of Mike Lawson’s tenure as EDCUtah CEO and worked closely with Lawson’s successor, Chris Roybal. The tech industry had recently crashed and economic development was quite challenging, Shepherd remembers. Nonetheless, he was asked to sink everything he had into business development, learn as much as he could, get to know as many people as he could, and in the process help businesses coming to Utah to understand the state’s culture, its people and align those businesses with Questar’s marketing team for assistance with their energy needs.
“My experience at EDCUtah turned out to be a productive step away from Questar and really broadened my perspective of business in a unique way,” Shepherd says. “I spent nine months learning what is critical to business success. The experience also opened my eyes to the value of the consolidated economic development effort under EDCUtah and the important partnership with the state to attract quality businesses to Utah.”
Despite the difficulties in the tech sector during Shepherd’s tenure at EDCUtah, Intel had announced its decision to locate an office in Utah. The tech giant subsequently flew in hundreds of employees that would be relocating to the Beehive State from California. One of Shepherd’s favorite business development memories is when he hopped on one of the buses to act as a “tour guide” and showcase the Salt Lake Valley. “It was a lot of fun and I felt like a lot of the Intel folks fell in love with Utah, our culture and our friendly people,” he reflects. “And I was really impressed that Intel would do that for its employees.”
Today, Shepherd is the director of corporate communications at Questar, but he still stays in close contact with the economic developers and many friends he made while serving as a loaned executive. Markus has similar sentiments. It’s been more than a decade since he served as a loaned executive, but even today he maintains working relationships with many of the contacts he made while at EDCUtah. Those connections, he says, have made it easier for him to resolve issues and find solutions in his current role as Questar’s general manager of customer service and community relations.
“Being a loaned executive provided a wonderfully eye-opening experience and exposure to the business and government leaders committed to economic development in Utah,” says Markus. “I had the opportunity to meet so many good, influential people around the state, and saw the teamwork that’s propelling Utah forward as a great place to do business.”
Baird is the longest tenured loaned executive to work at EDCUtah. He came on board after working as the director of real estate for Questar. In his decade of service to EDCUtah he has become completely entrenched in economic development and, thanks to his real estate background, shares a kinship with the corporate real estate executives who are so crucial to expansion and relocation decisions.
“I know their jobs and what they are looking for,” he explains. Rural economic development is one of Baird’s passions, because he has seen first-hand how job creation in rural communities can be a game-changer.
Wagstaff now serves as president of Questar Gas Company. Reflecting on the two decades that Questar has been loaning executives to EDCUtah, he says the eight Questar employees who have shared their energy and expertise with the EDCUtah staff returned to Questar with a whole new perspective on what new-business customers expect from their energy providers. “My personal experience as a loaned-executive to EDCUtah truly opened my eyes to Utah’s amazing workforce, pro-business approach and diverse cultural and recreational opportunities. When it comes to showcasing our great state, EDCUtah has figured out the right formula,” he says.