Gov. Spencer J. Cox has appointed Ryan Starks as the new executive director of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Utah Senate. He also named respected businessman Brad Bonham as the department’s first entrepreneur-in-residence.
“Ryan is a proven leader and dedicated public servant who has been instrumental in helping businesses thrive in our state as well as expand around the globe,” Gov. Cox said. “I look forward to working with him in building Utah’s reputation as ‘the start-up state’.”
Ryan Starks is currently the managing director of growth and innovation in the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, overseeing business expansion programs and partnerships, rural economic development, international trade and diplomacy, and Utah’s targeted industries initiative. He helped stand up the Utah Immigration Assistance Center, the Utah Broadband Center, and the $69 million Utah Small Business Credit Initiative. He also serves as an honorary commander of the 419-fighter wing at Utah’s Hill Air Force Base.
Previously, he has worked for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington, DC, as the executive director of the Heber Valley Chamber of Commerce and economic development office in Wasatch County, and as the founding director of the Wasatch Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) — an innovative workforce partnership between students and industry. He also taught as an adjunct professor of management for 10 years in the BYU Marriott School of Business.
Starks earned a bachelor’s degree from Weber State University, where he served as student body president, and a Master of Public Administration degree from BYU. He later earned a certificate in economic development from the University of Oklahoma and recently completed the entrepreneurship and innovation program at Harvard University. Starks, his wife Amy, and their four children reside in South Jordan.
“Go Utah can play an integral role in catalyzing economic growth in all areas of the state by augmenting Utah’s targeted industries,” Starks said. “In this new role, I hope to fulfill Gov. Cox’s vision of helping Utah become the nation’s premier state for start-ups, entrepreneurship, and innovation.”
Gov. Cox has also named Brad Bonham as the state’s first entrepreneur-in-residence. In the role, Bonham will advise on entrepreneurship education, culture, and resources within the state and make recommendations on how to enhance the state’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.
“Brad Bonham epitomizes what makes Utah so special – an enterprising spirit, a strong work ethic and a commitment to give back to the community,” Gov. Cox said. “I’m grateful he’s willing to share his experience and ideas to benefit entrepreneurs throughout the state.”
Bonham is a successful entrepreneur, investor, philanthropist, and community leader. He is the founder and a board member of Walker Edison, a successful ready-to-assemble furniture company with customers around the globe. Headquartered in Utah, Walker Edison has been recognized by Utah Business Magazine and Mountainwest Capital Network as one of Utah’s fastest-growing companies. He is currently the CEO of BONCO, a family of companies that invest in promising startups, private equity and real estate.
Bonham began his entrepreneurial journey by buying and selling automotive wheels and watches while in college. He would search online marketplaces for these used products, then resell them for a profit. Since those early entrepreneurial years, he has launched or invested in dozens of businesses.
Bonham has been recognized as a Utah Business CEO of the Year, 40 Under Forty Honoree, and an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Winner. He is a dedicated community leader and has served on the board of the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, World Trade Center Utah, Salt Lake Chamber and Make-A-Wish Utah. Through the Bonham Family Foundation, Bonham supports numerous nonprofits that alleviate poverty and provide care for underserved populations. He attended the University of Utah, studying economics, and is currently continuing his education through Harvard Business School. He and his wife Megan are residents of Draper and are the parents of four children.
“I’m extremely grateful to Gov. Cox for this opportunity and I look forward to sharing what I’ve learned as an entrepreneur, investor and businessman in this new capacity,” said Bonham. “Utah is well known as the best state for business and together we’ll make Utah the best state for startups, too.”