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On Utah's 'Silicon Slopes,' Tech Jobs Get A Lift

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On Utah's 'Silicon Slopes,' Tech Jobs Get A Lift

On Utah's 'Silicon Slopes,' Tech Jobs Get A Lift

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time for All Tech Considered.

Today, the silicon slopes of Utah. Last year, Utah created new jobs at a faster rate than any other state in the country, with the exception of North Dakota - the boom in North Dakota is being driven by oil and gas. But the hot job market in Utah is powered in large part by technology companies. This week, we're looking at vibrant parts of the economy - places and industries where things are looking up.

Today, NPR's Steve Henn takes us to Utah.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: For Jill Layfield, the decision to move to Park City, Utah from Silicon Valley was not a tough call.


JILL LAYFIELD: It's not difficult at all. I'm a big fan of climbing and mountain-biking, skiing, trail running, so the idea of being able to come work for a tech company and live in a ski resort was actually a very easy decision.

JEREMY ANDRUS: We got a powder rule: six inches of fresh powder. We expect you to take the first hour or two in the morning to go carve some turns.

HENN: Jeremy Andrus moved out here from San Francisco. While these two might sound like ski bums, don't be fooled: They are both CEOs. Jill runs, an online retailer that did close to $300 million in sales last year. And she's hiring.

LAYFIELD: Marketing and merchandising, we're always looking for great gear heads.

HENN: She needs programmers, product managers and engineers. And it's not just techies.

LAYFIELD: Always - it doesn't matter. If somebody great comes through the door we'll find a position for them.


HENN: Jeremy is a Harvard Business School graduate. He runs a company called Skullcandy. It makes designer headphones for snowboarders, skaters and surfers. Skullcandy recently went public and is now worth close to $400 million. And Jeremy is hiring, too.

But it's not just startups that are expanding here. EBay has had a presence in Utah since the '90s. It runs a big call center.

SCOTT MURRAY: So we have moved almost about 350 jobs from the Philippines back over here to Salt Lake City.

HENN: Scott Murray is eBay's vice president in charge here. And yes, you heard him correctly: eBay took jobs from the Philippines - call center jobs - and moved them back into the United States. Why?

MURRAY: The key for us is, so 20 percent of our transactions are cross-border trade.

HENN: And it turns out that Utah has the highest percentage of foreign language speakers in the country. It's kind of the state's secret economic weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Foreign language spoken)

HENN: And there's a simple reason so many people here speak another language.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I served a mission for the Mormon Church in Japan in 1991 to '93.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: And I ended up serving a mission, as well, for the LDS Church.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: I learned Spanish through a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: And I also served a mission for my church in Italy.

HENN: Every year, thousands of returning Mormon missionaries come back to Utah after spending two years abroad, after learning a foreign language, customs and culture.

So, if at eBay, a buyer from Brazil has a problem with a seller from Slovakia, there's a good chance the folks here can handle it.

MICHAEL BOBO: In my department, I know that we had like a Russian, a Brazilian Portuguese; we had a Filipino that spoke Tagalog. I think we had one other person who spoke Chinese, as well.

HENN: Michael Bobo mastered French on a mission.

BOBO: I get calls from people in Cameroon and Togo and Zaire and Congo.

HENN: But it's not only eBay that's interested in foreign language fluency. The NSA, the National Security Agency, recently decided to build a $1.2 billion data center here.

JEFF EDWARDS: That's very definitely linked to the linguistic talent that's here.

HENN: Jeff Edwards is president of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah.

He says even Goldman Sachs has tapped its Salt Lake office for language skills. It uses employees recruited here to open offices around the world. Today, Salt Lake is Goldman's second largest office in North America, with more than 1,300 employees.

But most firms don't come to Utah looking for an internationally sophisticated workforce. Goldman was lured by tax breaks. Skullcandy landed in Park City because its founder didn't want to live more than five minutes from a ski lift.

ANDRUS: When we started building the business here, I don't know that we had the bold vision that we'd be in 70 countries around the world.

HENN: But Jeremy Andrus says having a workforce fluent in languages and cultures from all over the globe has been a boon. While its headquarters are still in Utah, today Skullcandy has offices from San Clemente to Switzerland to Shanghai.

Steve Henn, NPR News.

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