Last week, business leaders, policy makers and experts from across the country convened in downtown Salt Lake City for the three-day annual SSTI conference discussing the innovation economy.
Organized by SSTI (the State Science and Technology Institute)—a nonprofit that works to support technology-based economic programs throughout the country—the event was focused on creating policies in support of building stronger local economies through technology and innovation initiatives.
“We must be vigilant. We must build an innovation pipeline that creates new technologies, new industries in 10, 15 or even 20 years down the road. Long-term growth can only be assured through continuous innovation,” said Lieutenant Governor Spencer J. Cox, who was the keynote speaker at the event. “The point of technology-based economic development is not just about getting a bigger slice of the existing pie…but creating whole new pies.”
Throughout the event, conference attendees discussed a wide range of issues affecting the innovation community, such as improving diversity equity, securing capital investments, and partnering with research and development partners.
While Utah’s success in technology-based economic development was highlighted throughout the event, the conference also reinforced the need for continual government support to ensure long-term economic growth.
“If you’re not investing in technology-based economic development, other states are going to make the investment and going to compete and are going to bear the benefit,” said Dan Berglund, SSTI president and CEO.
During the conference USTAR hosted a panel titled The Secrets of Utah’s Innovation Success Story, which featured Steve Borst, managing director of Upstart Ventures, an early stage healthcare investment fund; Ivy Estabrooke, Ph.D., executive director for corporate executive programs at PolarityTE, a Utah-based biotechnology company; Miles Hansen, president & CEO of World Trade Center Utah; and Keith Marmer, executive director and associate vice president for Technology & Venture Commercialization at the University of Utah.
The panel further stressed the need for continued investment, partnering, and support for technology-based economic programs for the state’s economic success to continue, as well as to address current market challenges, such as restricted capital investments.
“From a venture capital fund perspective, being a ‘fly-over state’ is great in the first five years of your venture capital fund because you've got no competition. It's a terrible thing in the last six or seven years of your fund because you’ve got no co-investors that are here all the time,” said Borst. “We would do much better if we could attract sustained sources of capital coming into the state.”
Hansen also stressed that coordination could be a challenge for developing strategic growth initiatives, especially without a centralized technology-based economic development agency like USTAR.
“If we are not organized here on the Utah side, I've got to go door to door in a lot of organizations and companies trying to make those connections,” said Hansen. “The momentum that we generate slows down and it's harder to really consummate partnerships and investment opportunities that are important for the state.”
During both the panel and the keynote address, experts and policymakers stressed the importance of Utah’s deep technology sectors, such as aerospace and life sciences, in increasing the state’s resiliency to potential economic downturns in the future.
"In Utah, we have seen massive growth in our information technology and software sector," Cox said. "However, Utah’s ability to weather the next economic downturn will be compromised unless we have corresponding growth in our deep tech sectors like aerospace, life sciences, automation, robotics as well as clean tech."