(photo credit: Tom Darnall)
This article was originally published in the Spring 2018 edition of Silicon Slopes Magazine.
On January 20 of this year, I departed Utah County and headed south. Silicon Slopes Tech Summit had just wrapped up, punctuated by one of those dreaded snowstorms that turns I-15 into a slippery mess. As I drove from Salt Lake City to my home in Spanish Fork, I was struck by two things:
- Nobody knows how to drive in snow and it’s terrifying to slowly drift past a different wreck every half mile.
- Even more terrifying, my favorite golf course — beautiful Eastbay, easily seen from the freeway — was covered in a fresh coat of snow, signifying a halt to golf season.
“F — this, it’s time to leave.” That was my distinct thought as I packed a box of clothes and left for St. George, watching as the landscape dissolved from snow-covered pines to red rock, cold white brilliance replaced by gentle warmth. Within one hour of arrival, I was at Sunbrook Golf Course under a cloudless blue sky. Wearing shorts. And a tee shirt. Hitting iron shots high in the air, swallowed by a bright sun. The next day I was at Green Springs Golf Course under a cloudless blue sky. Wearing shorts. And a tee shirt. Rolling putts on a perfectly mown surface, feeling like I had left Utah and gone to another part of the world. The day after, Sun Mountain Golf Course. Then St. George Golf Club. Dixie Red Hills. Southgate. Red Ledges. Coral Canyon. All played under cloudless skies and warm sun. In shorts. And a tee shirt.
Now, the original intent of this article was to rate and review every single St. George-area golf course in 5,000 words. This was quickly shot down by everyone on earth besides myself. In its place is a more interesting story, one that combines a small snippet of golf course reviews with a much larger narrative — St. George is seeking to position itself as a unique, self-sustaining tech market through the creation of a community that mixes residential, retail, hotels, and office space. Construction has already begun at the site of the old St. George airport, on a tabletop mesa that overlooks the entire city and surrounding area.
The name? Tech Ridge.
Starting A Business In St. George
Five years ago, Ryan Wedig moved his family to St. George and joined a tech startup. Alongside Jarrett Taylor, Wedig founded PrinterLogic and embarked upon a mission to rid the world of print servers.
“I was thinking PrinterLogic would grow to ten employees and then Jarrett would understand we would need to move,” said Wedig. “I had lived in San Jose, Raleigh, and Washington DC — three of the five top technology hotbeds in the country. As an individual contributor in those places, I knew that I could pick up a phone and find a job anytime. And St. George wasn’t going to have that.”
Despite his early misgivings, Wedig began realizing the lifestyle value of St. George to a startup. Inside the city: golf, mountain biking, hiking trails, rock climbing, and permanently sunny weather. Outside the city: Vegas in one direction, Zions National Park in another. For a certain type of person, St. George was outdoor heaven.
As PrinterLogic grew, Wedig was able to lure outside executives — selling them on a healthy dose of work-life balance — and pair them with underutilized talent that already existed in St. George. This created a good combination of executives/employees and perhaps more importantly, meant that any locals interested in tech now had a learning experience close to home.
“How do you get employees to come to St. George?” said Wedig. “That’s the biggest question. Within this community, there is so much to offer — if you package it right and get someone to buy into the lifestyle, you can attract some awesome people.”
Five years later, PrinterLogic has 160 employees with executives from places like Alcatel, Landesk, Insidesales, RizePoint, and Sysco. They recently announced a $15 million funding round led by Mercato Partners to continue fueling this expansion. Ryan swears his passion for building a company in St. George is wildly fulfilling and at the center of this desire is the above question: how does he get employees to come to St. George?
“Our people are our inventory,” said Wedig. “The smarter and more creative our people are going to be, the better PrinterLogic is going to be. If we create an environment that is fun and exciting, make them feel like they are part of something interesting, not only can we attract talent but it makes the people who are already here that much more excited. This is important if you’re going to build a solid technology company.”
(Wedig and PrinterLogic VP of Sales JD Carter, photo credit: Tom Darnall)
With PrinterLogic expanding, Wedig began a search for more office space. During one visit in particular, Wedig explored the housing capacity of a strip mall and came to a stark realization.
“This is a strip mall — we’re trying to build a world-class organization and this is an extension of our recruiting problem,” said Wedig. “We can’t get top-tier talent, bring them down here, and then shove them in a strip mall in the middle of nowhere.”
Indeed, strip mall officing is not ideal. Selling prospective employees on the pros of St. George (outdoor lifestyle, cost of living) is great, until they’re packed inside a strip mall cubicle muttering, “I’ve made a huge mistake.” Unfortunately for Wedig, there weren’t many options available.
“We started realizing there wasn’t a building in St. George that would be able to accomodate us a year from now,” said Wedig.
From their current office, Wedig could look out his window and see the old St. George airport atop a mesa overlooking the city. He began working on an idea with Mayor Jon Pike and St. George City, a plan to turn that existing land into a sort of business oasis stocked with office space, retail stores, and residential areas. Ideally, PrinterLogic could act as a cornerstone of the project by building a new office that housed not only its own expanding employee base, but any small startups as well.
“If I could build a building on the rim of that airport, have a glass wall that looks on the city, Zion, Kolob, and be able to describe the lifestyle we’re offering, I could bring any executive and sell them on that all day long,” said Wedig. “Instead of $2 million for 1,200 square feet, how about $500,000 for 4,000 square feet? Who can’t sell that?”
Tech Ridge: The Building Of A Community
Standing on top of Tech Ridge, I can see what Wedig describes. St. George lays spread in every direction, affordable housing and trees giving way to red cliffs, dwarfed in the distance by great mountainous peaks. On a 65 degree February day, I breathe it in and ponder Wedig’s words: who can’t sell this?
The initial building phase of Tech Ridge has begun. PrinterLogic recently broke ground for a new three-story office and hopes to have a finished product by March 2019, with extra space available for early-stage startups. Another pillar of St. George’s tech community, busybusy, will be moving into a new building at Tech Ridge shortly afterwards. Dixie Applied Technology College is already there with a brand-new $45 million campus, an anchor point and pipeline for tech talent that companies like PrinterLogic and busbusy can use to build upon.
“We are here to prove you can plant a flower in the desert and make it grow,” said Wedig. “What would make this a viable community? A mix of residential, retail, hotel, and office space. What’s exciting is it isn’t just Tech Ridge — it’s 150 acres of a live-work-play environment.”
It’s easy to envision the atmosphere Tech Ridge wants to create, a cross somewhere between beachfront property and a Silicon Valley tech campus. Wedig has met with executives from other St. George tech companies — like busybusy CEO Issac Barlow and Zonos (formerly iGlobal Stores) CEO Clint Reid — to discuss what St. George needs to sustain this tech-focused community and the creation of Tech Ridge is just one step.
“We’ve had really frank conversations knowing we have to pay like they’re paying up there (in Utah/SLC County), we have to respond to the concerns and the personal development of these people if we want a reputation that it’s safe to come work in St. George,” said Wedig. “We have to act like the tech scenes that are successful — with openness, with excitement for new opportunities, and the willingness to write a bigger check every year for somebody that is valuable to the company.”
With businesses already committed to the area and the passion of St. George City to help build this community, the plans for Tech Ridge are immense. The live-work-play distinction is important — the purpose of Tech Ridge isn’t to create a snobby mesa of business elites, but to provide a place where anyone in the community can live, or work, or play with a variety of options. Like walking a 3.5 mile trail that circles the ridge, complete with breathtaking views of the city. Or shooting hoops at PrinterLogic’s indoor basketball court. Or taking your children to one of the available parks and letting them go crazy on the monkey bars.
Tech Ridge is a community — Wedig, Pike, St. George City, and everyone involved believes in this vision. As St. George continues to develop, the recent success of tech companies like PrinterLogic has boosted the economy through the creation of higher-paying jobs. Tech Ridge can amplify this boom: more tech companies and more growth, fueled by a live-work-play environment that attracts top talent. Like Wedig said, it’s time to plant a flower in the desert and watch it grow.
“The push that you get from taking the community to another place — and to have the mayor and people at the city really understand this needs to be an important part of our economy — it’s incredible,” said Wedig. “It makes me keep going.”