Mind our own business: Local entrepreneurs get candid about county culture

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mind copyUtah Valley may just be the worst-kept secret. 

From Forbes repeatedly naming us the Best Place for Business and Careers to giants like Adobe and Microsoft staking their claims, there’s no question the world knows we’re playing to win.

But what do we know about our business culture? What is it really like to run a company here? What are our best traits? What are our quirks? And how about working with all them Mormons? 

We surveyed local entrepreneurs to share the ins and outs of leading our crazy cool county. Scroll through our Q’s and find out what’s on their minds.

How would you describe Utah Valley’s business culture?  

Five words: Family. Friendly. Fast. Frugal. Fervor. 

 

Family

In a word? We’re close.

“It’s tight knit. Professionals are eager to share their good experiences with your company,” says Jessica Devenish, owner of Checknet in Provo. “And although Utah Valley executives are busy, they are always generous with their time and attention when a local need arises.”

“It is a tight community,” adds Andrew Smith, founder of Four Foods Group in American Fork. “Once you are in it for a while, it is easy to become acquainted with and rely on your Rolodex of business associates, past employees, partners or companies. It makes it feel much more like family.”

But as with any family, sometimes close is too close.

“That tight community is also the same reason it can be unenjoyable at times,” Smith says. “When everyone gets too close, sometimes competitiveness, for no reason at all, comes into play and ruins a good opportunity before it ever takes hold.”

What’s more, it can be hard to break into “the club.”

“I had a conversation with a colleague who moved into the Utah business environment from Oregon,” Devenish says. “He shared that his most favorite thing about our local economy is also his least favorite. He said, ‘Impressive how aware and connected it seems. So many executive groups are well-knowing of each other; which is a tremendous opportunity to link, connect or get to know multiple companies. At the same time, if you’re NOT in the group or in the know, it’s easy to feel like an outsider immediately.’”

Friendly

“Utah Valley is generally business friendly — above the national average,” says Mary Michelle Scott, president of Fishbowl in Orem. “However, it’s just as difficult to start a business here as anywhere: You need to be different, have startup capital, talented people and experienced leadership.”

But perhaps our friendliest trait? Those who do, teach.

“The support for entrepreneurship and new ideas is unparalleled in any other area,” Smith says. “This area has become a ‘place to be’ when starting a business. It’s full of talent, skills, resources and culture to support any type of business venture.”

The bottom line? Seeing our neighbors succeed is good business.

“I appreciate the strong, positive sense around entrepreneurism,” Scott says. “The demographic contributes to a ‘you can be, do, or start anything you want’ optimism.”

“It’s a can-do attitude for sure,” adds Chris Finken, co-founder of OrangeSoda. “Talk to anyone about a business idea and they’ll encourage you to go try it. But because we’re so well connected, if you’re trying to keep a secret … good luck.”

 

Fast

The growth, success and national recognition of Utah Valley has put us on the fast track — and all that comes with it.

“Utah Valley has such talented and entrepreneurial individuals that it has become much harder to really surpass others, as it seems everyone is having success,” Smith says. “It’s also made us more consistent. It seems like it is consistently getting better and more viable to build a business in Utah County. For the past 15 years, it’s gotten better each year — even during two recessions.”

 

Frugal

So perhaps we can be a little …cheap. (We know what you’re thinking: “Whaaaaaat?!”)

“Look, it pains me to say it as much as it pains some people to hear it, but Utah Valley has a stigma for being ‘frugal,’” says Michael Janda, founder of RiSER in Pleasant Grove. “Is it true Utah Valley businesses are cost conscious? Yes. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Any successful business needs to make money. Utah Valley entrepreneurs are probably among the best in the world at negotiating down prices, which undoubtedly improves the bottom line.”

Fervor

“The passion startups have for building something great creates a contagious chain reaction,” says Ben Peterson, founder of BambooHR in Provo. “This passion attracts great people, invites financing options, and drives support and mentorship from experienced professionals. This valley is a startup factory.”

And it’s typically an honest factory.

“I love that there is very little ‘back-door deals’ or bribing taking place, as that happens a lot on the East Coast,” says Aaron Ollivier, founder of Precision Concrete Cutting. “There’s loads of people here just wanting to start and grow a business, and that energy is super exciting.”

 

How would you describe Utah Valley’s workforce?

ONE word: Talented. 

 

Talented

Every entrepreneur in the valley will tell you the same thing — Utah Valley has the coolest colleagues.

“GREAT TALENT!” Smith yells.

“Integrity is really high,” Scott adds. “And workers here generally have an above-average IQ as well as an eagerness and energy toward working.”

That eagerness leads to a desire to do — and be — the best.

“My hands down favorite thing is the work ethic,” Ollivier says. “Our local workforce is extremely hard-working compared to other states. In addition, we have the most desire to move up the chain in an organization, which is very cool.”

Peterson sums it up best: “Our workforce can accomplish anything.”

 

What are the biggest misconceptions about doing business in Utah Valley? 

Two phrases: Mormon memos. Missing margaritas. 

 

Mormon Memos

With 81.2 percent of Utah Valley’s population LDS, words like “ward” and “stake” are going to come up. But that doesn’t mean there’s a Mormon agenda running rampant in boardrooms and breakrooms.

“When someone learns I’m in Utah, I often get, ‘Wow, do you work with a bunch of Mormons?’” says Devenish, who is not LDS. “A Utah cliché I’ve heard is that working with a ‘bunch of Mormons’ is a distraction to productivity (i.e. prayer and home teachings in the middle of the office). Fortunately, this is not the truth. To be candid, I work with a GREAT and very PRODUCTIVE ‘bunch of Mormons.’”

 

Missing Margaritas

When business professionals are hosting out-of-state clients, the alcohol question undoubtedly arises.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if you can get alcohol in Utah Valley,” Peterson says. “I usually say, ‘It’s not available, and neither is coffee or Coke.’ Some people think I’m serious.”

Here are three drinking law did-you-knows, courtesy of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

1. “Full liquor service is available in licensed restaurants, banquet and catering facilities, reception centers, airport lounges, and clubs.”

2. “In clubs, liquor, wine, flavored malt beverages, heavy beer, and beer may be served from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.”

3. “Individuals and organizations hosting private social, business, or recreational events or functions are not required to obtain a permit from the state if the event is not open to the general public, and alcohol is provided to invited guests without cost.”

 

What would you change about Utah Valley’s business culture?  

Three phrases: More tolerance. More visitors. More of the same. 

 

More Tolerance

Utah Valley has worked hard to expand its circles — but there’s always, always room for improvement.

“I’d say more diversity and tolerance for those who are different from you,” Devenish says. “How? One person, one story, one relationship at a time.”

 

More Visitors

As smart and successful as our community gets, we can never stop learning from the world around us.

“Let’s involve more successful individuals outside of Utah in the Chamber, conferences and lectures so we can glean new perspectives and add a little more breadth to our thinking,” Scott says. “We don’t need an overhaul, but a good soup can always use a little more spice and kick.”

 

More of the Same

We done good. Now let’s do better.

“Our social culture already encourages businesses leaders to create great companies that are also a great place to work, and in many respects we’re pioneers in this area,” Scott says. “The power of having healthy work environments has still been barely tapped — though we’re better than most.”

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