Park City resident helps nudge Utah’s growing business sector
Mel Lavitt named to Governor’s Office of Economic Development subcommittee
Over the last 15 years, Utah has become one of the best places in the country to do business. Its economy has morphed into one of the strongest in America, and its burgeoning tech sector has begun earning comparisons to a young Silicon Valley.
Mel Lavitt has had a front-row seat for it all.
The Park City resident joined the board of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED) when it was formed in 2005 under then-Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and later served as its chairman for several years. Now, he’s stepping into a new role. Lavitt was recently named chair of the board’s Incentives Subcommittee, where he will head up the effort of helping lure businesses to the state — or enticing current ones to expand here — through post-performance grants or tax breaks.
Lavitt, who has spent much of his career in investment banking and is a senior advisor at the firm Needham & Company, said helping foster the rise of Utah as a business hub has been a thrill. It’s been particularly exciting to see the Wasatch Front emerge as a major player in the tech industry. In recent years, the area has earned the moniker of “Silicon Slopes” because of the number of successful tech companies sprouting up in places like, Provo, Salt Lake City, Ogden — and Park City.
“It’s wonderful to have been part of helping Utah develop this booming tech community,” he said. “That’s fun for me, seeing how these companies grow. And I like to invest in them. I’m not a General Electric, JPMorgan guy — I’m an investor in these kind of companies. I understand them.”
From Lavitt’s perspective, Utah is firmly established as a business hotbed and has become an important destination for venture capitalists, whereas it was once a flyover state. The challenge now is to build on that and help companies reach the next level. Lavitt envisions a future in which large companies here are iconic and synonymous with Utah the way Coca-Cola is with Atlanta or Apple is with Cupertino, California.
But getting to that point won’t be easy. In Lavitt’s estimation, the only company that comes close to fitting that bill is Ancestry.com.
“It would be great if we had five or 10 of those iconic companies in Utah,” he said. “That’s going to be, if it happens, down the road. But that’s where we’re heading.”
As Utah’s economy has progressed over the last decade-plus, so has GOED itself. It was created under Huntsman Jr., but it was his successor — Gov. Gary Herbert — who accelerated its mission, Lavitt said. Upon taking office, Herbert outlined a vision for making Utah’s economy the strongest in the country, and pushed GOED to make it happen, laying the groundwork for the success that’s followed.
“He took it up not a notch, but a number of notches,” he said. “He wanted Utah to be No. 1 in this and No. 1 in that. The main change I’ve seen is the professionalism of GOED. Every time we’ve had a change, it becomes better.”
Lavitt has enjoyed being part of it and anticipates remaining involved with GOED until the end of his current four-year term. More than a decade after joining the board, he still relishes trying to make a positive difference. Opportunities to do so in any meaningful way were rare earlier in his career in cities like New York City and San Francisco, but the willingness of Utahns to pitch in to make the state a better place is what makes it special, he said.
“No matter who you are in New York, there’s a million people doing more (who are) smarter, better, richer,” he said. “Here, you can be involved if you want to be involved. People are welcoming if help. And I’ve found it really interesting. I’ve found I can use my wealth of experience in investment banking to win business and selling people on Utah.”
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