Utah urged to grow high-tech firms more quickly

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Google CEO Eric Schmidt said Friday that Utah does well in starting high tech companies that are key to the state's economic future but has trouble keeping them going and growing them fast enough.

At Salt Lake City's Grand America Hotel to address the Utah Technology Council's Hall of Fame dinner, the head of perhaps the world's leading technology company said there are things the state should do to help start and nurture high tech businesses.

"The ideas get formed and the companies get started and somehow they don't get the omph or whatever it is they need," said Schmidt, speaking to reporters before his speech. "I don't know whether [improving the situation means] globalizing the business. I don't know whether we need more venture capitalist presence in Utah or maybe just more experience building the businesses from the startup. It's not that businesses aren't getting started, it's that once started they aren't growing the businesses fast enough."

Sen. Orrin Hatch, who along with Sen. Bob Bennett, appeared with Schmidt, said the three had talked earlier about the problem.

"We get a corporation going and it has some tremendous ideas and all of the sudden someone comes up from Silicon Valley and buys it and takes it back there," Hatch said.

Bennett agreed, pointing to conversations he has had with venture capitalists.

"The comment is, 'We really like Utah. We're paying a lot of attention to Utah, but we have yet to see a major breakthrough in Utah that lasts. You have had a number of high tech companies that have grown up here and done well then disappeared.' "

While praising Utah's advantages such as its physical beauty, relatively low cost of living and high quality of life, Schmidt said the key is building and attracting a talented workforce.

"It's not an attitude problem," he said. "It's an availability problem. To me, it's recruiting new talent into the state and growing new talent. It's really people and expertise and that's the way to make it happen."

Schmidt also made a pitch for making very high speed Internet access more widely available.

"It turns out because of the physical geography of Utah, 80 percent of the citizens live in a relatively small area," Schmidt said. "So you could imagine the greater Salt Lake area having a huge connectivity and that connectivity could be one of the additional draws to bring the next generation of entrepreneurship to the state."

Schmidt envisions that computer storage and applications will reside on huge banks of computers called clouds that are available over very high speed networks.

Using inexpensive computing devices like small netbooks or phones, people will access their applications through browsers and will store data and photos and such on the clouds.

Television, mobile phones and computers will merge, he said, providing information and entertainment on demand on various devices.