Business is booming in Provo.
The area has been recently mentioned in nationwide rankings for technology, living standards and job outlook. The startup culture and the presence of local universities are two of the driving forces that have put Provo on the map.
A recent Time Magazine article by Jon Meacham described Provo as one of nine cities in which the economy is booming.
The article considers Provo as one of the nation’s top places to launch a career. The author attributes this to “its generous business climate, proximity to Sundance movie mecca Park City and a flourishing startup culture.”
But Nathan Murray, who works with Provo City’s economic development, said these kinds of rankings also include the greater metro area around Utah Valley. “It’s Provo who gets the tagline, but it’s because of the efforts that happen in Orem or Lehi, or even Springville,” he said.
Forbes ranked the Provo metro area the second best place for business and careers. It attributed the stability of the $18 billion economy to Brigham Young University, the largest employer in Provo.
Murray said the rankings are helpful because Provo will be at the front of people’s minds when choosing a place to expand their business.
What makes Provo a booming city
Murray said he feels Provo is growing and standing out more than ever before. “It’s because of the workforce capital within Provo City. It’s because of our educated population,” he said.
The workforce continues to grow. The employment outlook in Provo is the best in the nation, according to Forbes in a survey conducted by ManpowerGroup. A net 29 percent of the companies in the Provo area plan to hire employees during the spring-summer months of 2014.
This is partly why the Provo-Orem area is the second-best-performing city, just behind Austin, Texas, according to a study by the Milken Institute, an independent economic think tank. The study says Provo ranked No. 1 in job growth and No. 7 in short-term job growth.
Job growth is also one of the pillars of Provo’s expansion, along with three others: income growth, low unemployment and institution investment, according to Murray.
“In the past, there’s been kind of a stigma that there are good jobs here. But they are not good-paying jobs, and that’s turning the corner, and we are seeing some income growth,” Murray said.
Provo was recently considered in the top-seven top tech hubs among small college towns, according to SpareFoot’s blog. SpareFoot is the largest online marketplace for self-storage units.
“Provo stood out in particular for its high rankings concerning the density of high-tech startups,” according to John Egan, the editor-in-chief of the SpareFoot blog.
The city went from being ranked No. 5 in 1990 to No. 2 in 2010 for high-tech startup density in mid-large metropolitan areas, according to a report by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. This foundation is a nonprofit organization that promotes entrepreneurship.
The entrepreneurial effect
Entrepreneurs are critical to helping the economy grow.
“They are able to generate wealth, and not just so that they have money, but also so that they can build our economy as a nation and as a community,” said BYU Information Systems Professor Stephen Liddle.
Liddle is the academic director of BYU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology. The center provides mentoring services for aspiring entrepreneurs and hosts several competitions throughout the year.
“We try to do things to get students incentivized to work on businesses because we know that entrepreneurship really drives economies,” Liddle said.
Mashable, a news source that specializes in digital innovations, recently compiled a list of the best 15 colleges with entrepreneurship programs. BYU made it onto the list.
“We are happy about the rankings, but that’s not why we do what we do,” Liddle said. “We want to build our students so that they can go out and change the world.”
Startup Dojo is an example of the effect of the entrepreneurial culture in the Provo area. It offers affordable co-working space for startup companies, according to Sariah Masterson, the assistant director of Startup Dojo.
Companies can rent a desk or a room to meet with their clients. The rates are low to help entrepreneurs have a space to work.
“It helps bring credibility to these companies,” Masterson said. “It has made it possible for so many companies to grow.”
The companies benefiting from Startup Dojo range from web development to furniture companies. For example, kids’ furniture company Sprout uses Startup Dojo because it has only 10 employees.
“Entrepreneurship is changing society. It’s creating all these jobs for people,” Masterson said. “That’s 10 jobs feeding 10 families or 10 students.”
The Provo Economic Development Department has sponsored events where entrepreneurs gather to help each other at Startup Dojo. “That partnership has been helping so many people grow their businesses and produce more jobs for people,” according to Masterson.
Downtown Provo attracts businesses
Provo City has tried for years to revitalize downtown, only finding success recently with new development projects that enhance the area’s appearance and living standards. These recent improvements could attract new businesses.
The Provo City Center Temple and Nu Skin headquarters would not be built in downtown Provo unless it was a viable place to continue in the future, according to Murray.
To help explain this phenomenon, Murray said, “I think there is something to be said about a group of people that came here 150 years ago, when it was a desert, and made it a blossoming city.”
“I think that attitude still permeates the city. That type of attitude is still around in the area,” he said.
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