In northern Utah County, hundreds of workers at IM Flash Technologies turn the silicon in common sand into speedy, power-efficient flash memory chips that store songs, photos, documents and other data in mobile phones, cameras and tablets.
Just up the road, in Salt Lake County, eBay unwrapped its new 240,000-square-foot Draper campus last month. The buildings accommodate 1,800 people who carry out customer service, software development, human resources and legal and accounting work for the e-commerce giant.
IM Flash and eBay are near Point of the Mountain, the east-west range that separates Salt Lake and Utah counties. It is here where a substantial chunk of Utah's economic vitality is being created.
From 10600 South in Salt Lake County to Provo in Utah County, employers have created 24,000 jobs since 2010 about 35 percent of the 67,300 jobs added statewide in that short time, according to the state Department of Workforce Services. Many, perhaps most, are skilled jobs of the kind Utah economic developers covet and that have made the state a star in the firmament of U.S. high-tech, while generating big changes in everything from housing availability to transportation choices.
It wasn't always so.
Twenty years ago, Lehi was a sleepy farming community at the north end of Utah Valley. Draper, 10 miles away at the south end of Salt Lake Valley, wasn't much different. But as developers know, some of the most desirable land lies at equal distances between two metropolitan areas. So, with Provo to the south and Utah's capital to the north, Lehi, Draper and the real estate around the county line between them were bound to grow, sooner or later.
"I can tell you that it's been branded as a technology corridor," said Stan Lockhart, government-affairs manager at IM Flash, the 1,600-employee joint venture between Intel Corp., the world's top semiconductor company, and Micron Technology, a memory chipmaker based in Boise.
"When Micron came to town 15 years ago, it wasn't that way," Lockhart said. "But as a whole variety of companies have come since then, it's kind of evolved, and now today there is just kind of a general recognition" that the area is the vibrant core of Utah's bustling technology industry.
Easy access • It is hard to isolate one root reason why the region became the nexus of so much high-tech activity. Spencer Eccles, executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, said the seeds were planted by WordPerfect, the word-processing software firm that traces its roots to a partnership that started in 1976 between Brigham Young University graduate student Bruce Bastian and BYU computer-science professor Alan Ashton, and to the network operating system Novell. Both had their starts in Utah County.
But it's more than that, Eccles said. The area is close to three universities, a private college and a community college. BYU and the University of Utah are renowned for their computer science, engineering, genetics and business programs. One of the U.'s graduates is John Warnock, who co-founded software giant Adobe Systems. In 2009, Adobe bought Omniture Inc., the Web analytics company started by BYU dropout Josh James. In 2010, James went on to start Domo, a data startup in American Fork, and Adobe opened a 280,000-square-foot campus in Lehi last year.
There were several reasons Adobe chose to put the futuristic building on the border of Utah and Salt Lake counties, Jonathan Francom, who directs the Silicon Valley-based company's global workplace solutions unit, said in an email.
"Beyond wanting to be close to our workforce, who tend to live in both counties, we also liked being strategically located at the center of three high-quality universities (BYU, the U. and Utah Valley University)," Francom said. "We love the strong talent pool that we draw from regularly and often here in Utah. The [building] itself is bold by design and, we feel, gives us an advantage to help attract … the best talent in the world."
There was another reason. The campus is a mile away from a FrontRunner train station in Lehi. And TRAX officials have informally agreed to build a stop outside the building when the light-rail system is extended around Point of the Mountain.
"Another advantage is how readily accessible our site is from our current and future public transit options," Francom said.
TRAX was one reason eBay opened its Draper campus where it did. A light-rail stop is just a few steps away from eBay Way, where most of the company's 1,800 Utah employees work.
"We have heard more and more that people were wanting to build along that transportation corridor, specifically the TRAX stations that are being built," GOED's Eccles said. "It's so convenient to have your workforce to be in that close proximity. eBay is literally across the street from the Draper station."
Plenty of appeal • The online retail giant first came to Utah in 1999. Denise Leleux, vice president of North America Customer Experience, said the company was drawn to the state by its business-friendly regulations, a skilled workforce and Utah's quality of life.
"The greater Salt Lake City area has been particularly appealing, as it's in close proximity to our San Jose [Calif.] headquarters [and] has good access to a broad set of talent coming from the local universities," Leleux said in an email.
"Most importantly, the state of Utah has been a great partner, which has made it easy for us to build and grow in the region," she added, referring to series of tax credits issued by the board of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
The company also has a data center in South Jordan, where last year it unveiled a 665-kilowatt solar power system that covers nearly the entire roof. It has been expanding the center and plans to open an addition this summer, she said.
OrangeSoda says its proximity to the county line allows the American Fork-based online marketing company to tap two markedly different labor pools. Salt Lake County provides the company with lots of 30-something applicants with plenty of career experience, while Utah County furnishes younger applicants who are just starting their careers, said Dan Garfield, a senior brand manager.
"You want people who have experience and know what they are doing. But you also want to bring in people just beginning their careers. People who are starting their careers have a lot of untapped talent that you can develop as a company," Garfield said. "For us it's a real healthy mix."
OrangeSoda has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2006. Two years ago, it made Inc. magazine's annual list of the 500 fastest-growing U.S. companies. Last year, Mountain West Capital Network said OrangeSoda was the fastest-growing business in Utah County. Revenue grew at an annual rate of 69 percent from 2009 to 2011. In June 2012, the company was acquired by Deluxe Corp. for $28 million. Deluxe, based in St. Paul, Minn., elected to keep OrangeSoda and its 200 employees in Utah.
"We are in a similar industry to them, and they really want to use us to complement their offerings. They are happy to have us where we are," Garfield said.
Fertile ground • The hustle and bustle of high tech on both sides of the line separating Salt Lake and Utah counties can be seen in the rapid expansion of new homes. In 2010, Draper's population of 42,200 was 68 percent more than it was in 2000. Eleven percent of all homes sold in Salt Lake County last year were in the three ZIP codes butting against the north side of the boundary, according to Salt Lake Board of Realtors figures. In Utah County, one of every four homes sold in 2012 was within the three ZIP codes on the south side. In the same period, Lehi's population grew 149 percent, to 47,400.
"It does seem that there is a rich abundance of people who are tech-minded here," said Blake Stevens, chief financial officer of SecurityMetrics, a data security company in Orem. "That tends to attract other people who are tech-minded. I just think that we are setting ourselves up as a community that is very tech-savvy."
SecurityMetrics was started in 2000 by CEO Brad Caldwell, a BYU graduate, who in his earlier years was one of the founders of Software Development Corp. It developed a Linux-based WordPerfect writing program for Novell and Corel. Corel, based in Ottawa, now owns WordPerfect.
SecurityMetrics has been a blessing for BYU and UVU students studying computer science and software development. The company hires many of them for a call-center operation at its new office building just off Interstate 15. As more challenging jobs open up, SecurityMetrics looks first to its call-center employees to fill them, Stevens said.
The company had 34 employees when Stevens was hired in 2006. Today, the number is about 360, including 150 people in the call center. The company "always seems to be hiring," Stevens said, adding that the labor pool that SecurityMetrics can draw on is well trained and plentiful. For those reasons, the company has never explored leaving the state.
"We've always done well here; why move?" Stevens said.
Close to 24,000 jobs were created along the 40-mile corridor between 10600 South in Salt Lake County and Provo in Utah County from 2010 to 2012. That is about 35 percent of the 67,300 jobs added statewide in the same period.