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Pitching Utah business during Sundance

by Andrew Kirk, OF THE RECORD STAFF

Mike Dowse, president of Amer Sports that manages the Salomon, Atomic and Suunto brands, says he shaved 35 percent off his operating costs by moving his company to Utah.

Those savings made the business even more profitable despite the recession and slumped sales. It’s also a state where his employees enjoy living and are able to afford homes.

Dowse shared this at the third-annual 2010 Sundance Business Connection – a networking event held during the Sundance Film Festival for the express purpose of getting powerful people together to hear stories like that of Amer Sports.

Held at Stein Eriksen Lodge on Saturday and co-sponsored by Zions Bank, the festival and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), the event lets people meet each other who might not otherwise get a chance. The state can reach out to senior executives and various kinds of investors – many of whom own homes here – while they’re all in one place, explained GOED executive director Spencer Eccles.

Leaders of international business, prime ministers, cabinet members and other important people come to ski, watch movies and enjoy the town. It’s a great chance to make connections, said Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bancorporation. Several have moved offices and locations here because of those connections.

People who do move here may not use Zions for financing, but a strong business community is in the long-term interest of the corporation, Anderson said. The company supports the efforts of GOED to bring more jobs and salaries to the state.

Nor is networking in the immediate interest of the Sundance Institute, but Tina Lewis, chairwoman of the Sundance Utah Advisory Board, said the festival provides a wonderful opportunity to show attendees what Utah has to offer for tourism, film production and operating a business.

"It’s been a different twist at Sundance to have businesses at Sundance, but they enjoy meeting each other so it’s a great opportunity to spotlight the state of Utah," she said.

The "elevator pitch" his office makes, Eccles said, focuses on how livable Utah is, its young and gifted workforce, and its business-friendly environment.

Governor Gary Herbert addressed the group and couldn’t mention enough times Utah’s 2008 designation as "Best Managed State" by Governing Magazine.

"Utah has a story to tell," he said. "We’re empowering the private sector to succeed."

Herbert rattled off the debt-load of other state governments – exceeding 20 and 30 percent of their total budgets in some cases. In Utah, debt is low, attendance to National Parks is up, unemployment is relatively low, the workforce is healthy and surveys reveal people are happy, he said.

"In comparison, we’re doing very well," Herbert added.

He said Utah rewards businesses for taking risks, and the government understands that all businesses want is for the state to stay out of the way.

"You want to keep government off your backs and out of your wallets," he said. "We understand nonsensical regulations will kill you dead just like over-taxation."

Anderson said the Utah Legislature makes the state "a great place to work and live." The way it brings people, money and technology together accomplishes great things.

Evidence of that is the large manufacturers that have come, and will come to Utah, said both Eccles and Herbert. Manufacturing is an underappreciated sector of the state’s economy that is growing, Eccles said. Herbert said he plans to announce a major company that will build a plant here in his next "State of the State" address.


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