Urban Development


September 28, 2015 Written by

Published in Urban Development

Attracted by downtown’s energy and diversity, a wave of tech firms settle in Utah’s urban core.

When software development company Mastery Connect grew from a few developers to a few dozen a couple of years ago, they knew it was time to find a bigger home.

Mastery Connect is a Utah startup that develops technology for the classroom. Started in 2009, the company software shows real-time understanding of specific concepts, helping teachers personalize the learning experience for every student. Like most startups, Mastery Connect began with humble beginnings and humble office space.

In 2011 they surveyed the local office market and the suburb’s siren call was hard to resist. The company picked up their operation from cheap Class C office space and headed south to a shiny new suburban location. But the move was not to last.

“When we got there we realized a few things,” said president and CEO Corey Reid. Although the company made significant investments in their new space, “You can make the inside of you office reflective of your corporate personality. It’s expensive but you can do it.”

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In the end, it wasn’t enough. After a few months, the company started questioning their suburban choice.

“In a suburban environment you’re kind of isolated,” he said. Employees missed the vibrancy of downtown streets, the convenience of TRAX and the diversity of experiences and people that can only be found downtown.

“We were very much in a suburban culture and it was hard to walk anyplace other than Seven 11. You could get any kind of fast food you wanted at lunch, but there was nothing with any character,” Reid said. “Our move to the suburbs created a culture void for us. Ultimately it wasn’t aligned with the values of the workforce we need to be successful.”

Eventually separation anxiety for the urban core – and a set of concrete business calculations led them back downtown. A year after they invested in new office space, they left their new digs and came back to the city center taking up an entire floor in the 222 Building on Main Street.

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Workforce of the Future

Salt Lake City has become a magnet for the creative class and continues to top national rankings of places that developers, designers and artists want to live. A vibrant arts scene coupled with relatively low cost-of-living and a business friendly environment has made Utah’s capital city a draw for tech entrepreneurs. IN the past few years, downtown has attracted companies like Domo, WorkDay, Disney Interactive, EA, InsideSales, and Experticity, a high tech marketing company that takes up three floors in the Boston Building on Main Street

"Experticity is focused on driving innovation in all parts of our business,” said CEO Tom Stockhan. “A key part of achieving that DNA is a strong focus on a great company culture. Our downtown location plays a critical role in acquiring the right talent and giving our employees a workplace they enjoy."

InsideSales decided to open an urban location on Broadway just off Main Street to capitalize on capital city’s many amenities. The Utah startup makes sales teams more efficient and productive by helping them identify who to call, when to call or email, and what to say to make the sale.

“Our office in downtown Salt Lake City brings us great benefits, including access to a high-quality talent pool (stretching all the way into Davis County), thanks to its central location and convenient mass transit,” said InsideSales president and founder Ken Krogue. “It also provides visiting customers and prospects easy access to our office because downtown SLC is so close to the airport.”

Krogue says the downtown location has been helpful in achieving staffing and sales objectives for the growing company.

“It has given us access to a large, growing, diverse talent pool,” he said. “Working in downtown SLC appeals to a wide range of employees because of its convenient location and big-city amenities.”

Indeed, as savvy employers know, a company will only be as creative and entrepreneurial as its employees. Among the top concern for growing creative enterprises: attracting an innovative and diverse workforce. An urban location is increasingly recognized as a top selling point for young, educated workers who want a dynamic work experience in addition to a paycheck.

Working downtown was important to Aria Irani who graduated from the University of Utah’s Business School with an operations management degree in 2014.

“Coming out of college I had offers with other companies with offices outside of downtown,” Irani said. “It was exciting to imagine the start to my career in the center of the city where everything is happening.”

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Irani chose WorkDay, an enterprise software company that expanded to downtown Salt Lake City in 2011. WorkDay delivers HCM and Financial software through the cloud. Irani turned down offers from suburban employers because he wanted an urban experience.

“I choose Workday over those other companies because I knew working downtown would open opportunities that I couldn’t find elsewhere,” he said. “Workday is all about great work culture. The company is headquartered in the bay area and that fun, tech culture can be felt in the Salt Lake City office. It’s a fantastic company,” he said.

His job as an analyst at the cutting edge company keeps him busy but he credits the company’s downtown location as a source of ongoing enthusiasm. “I get to come to an office in an exciting environment,” he said. “It keeps me passionate about what I do and motivated to do bigger things.”

Regional Draw: The Secret is Out

With nearly a quarter of new hires coming from outside of the Beehive State, Mastery Connect’s downtown’s intangible qualities become even more important.

“Utah hasn’t always been on the top of people’s minds,” said Reid, “but the secret is out and we have a fantastic talent pool and a strong tech presence. Downtown is served by great public transportation. It isn’t crazy like San Francisco, but it offers everything you would want in a larger city. Once people dial it in here, they find it’s incredibly attractive.”

Industries that have traditionally been the biggest downtown office users – like finance and legal services – have long cared about the prestige of a downtown office. For decades, having an urban address meant respect and credibility. As one prominent attorney and political figure recently said: all the grown up law firms are downtown.

But new values and priorities are driving much of the central business district’s growth as an employment center. The burgeoning creative class cares more about innovation and flexibility. Famous for it’s non-traditional work environments, the tech sector values intangibles of an urban environment including vitality and diversity.

“We see downtown’s diversity as a huge selling point, especially for the tech sector” said Jill Remington Love, Salt Lake City’s director of community and economic development.

“You’re going to find an incredible array of political opinions, lifestyle choices, socio-economic backgrounds, religious beliefs and ethnicities downtown – especially compared to other areas of the state,” she said.

“That kind of diversity is increasingly important to the kind of companies we are attracting. It’s also important to the creative people they employ. These are the people who are building the products and services that will shape our economic future.”

Lane Beattie, president of the Salt Lake Chamber agrees.

“Downtown isn’t just a collection of buildings, sidewalks and roads,” he said. “It’s a system of people all working together to create something bigger than the sum of its parts. That kind of synergy only happens when you have multiple industries and disciplines coming together. It is a dynamic that is unique to an urban center.”

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