IN THE NEWS

31 October 2020

  • $10 million in new federal funding will help get broadband to some rural Utah communities
    Ivan Christensen, Millard School District transportation director, tapes a Wi-Fi password to the window of a school bus in Delta on Wednesday, April 8, 2020. The district is helping students who may lack home internet access for school assignments from falling behind by parking school buses equipped with Wi-Fi around the district. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — New, multimillion-dollar grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Friday will help make some inroads, albeit small ones, for the 100,000-plus Utahns who have no access to high-speed internet service.

    The gap between those who do, and do not, have robust internet connectivity, also known as the digital divide, has been underscored by restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, with residents in Utah and across the country challenged by remote work and remote education tasks that rely heavily on solid, and fast, internet connections.

    Bette Brand, USDA deputy undersecretary for rural development, said $10.6 million in funding had been allocated to provide new broadband service access to rural communities in Utah, Nevada and Idaho. The money comes from $550 million in new funding announced last December for the USDA’s ReConnect program, an effort aimed at accelerating deployment of broadband services in underserved areas of the U.S.

    “Access to a high-speed internet connection is a cornerstone of prosperity, and unfortunately many of America’s rural communities lack access to this critical infrastructure,” Brand said in a statement. “Connecting America’s rural communities to this essential infrastructure is one of USDA’s top priorities, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

    During an online press conference Friday morning, Brand noted that tens of millions of Americans currently have no access to broadband internet and the negative consequences for those with access challenges were only being made worse by the COVID-19 public health crisis.

    “This pandemic has only highlighted the digital divide even more,” Brand said.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture
    On Friday, the U.S Department of Agriculture announced $10.6 million in new funding grants to bring broadband internet service to rural communities in Utah and two other states.

    About $2.3 million of the funding will support fiber optic internet connectivity to four residences, four farms and four businesses in Washington County. And $5.6 million will get fiber to 188 residences, nine businesses and five farms located variously in Summit County, Utah; Bear Lake County, Idaho; and Sweetwater and Lincoln Counties in Nevada.

    USDA Rural Development Director for Utah Randy Parker said the service grants will help elevate quality of life for the state’s rural residents.

    “Utah is a forward-thinking state, and these long-term investments in broadband and cutting-edge technology make all the difference to its rural communities,” Parker said in a statement. “USDA is proud to be a partner in ensuring they are attractive destinations for prosperous living and working as well as visiting.”

    As a state, Utah comes in around average overall based on internet access and performance metrics.

    Broadband Now, an industry advocacy group, ranked Utah No. 29 in the U.S. with a 76.1 megabits per second average statewide internet speed and broadband access of 100 Mbps for more for 94% of the population.

    Utah gets high marks for overall access to broadband, but still has gaps for big chunks of the population.

    “In terms of availability, Utah’s broadband performance excels,” Broadband Now reported. The group noted “96.1% of Utahns have access to a 25 (megabits per second) wired internet connection. This is a massive percentage; however, 108,000 people still don’t have access to a wired connection capable of the same speed. Additionally, 45,000 people in Utah don’t have access to any wired internet providers at all.”

    Internet affordability also contributed to Utah’s average internet ranking.

    “Only 26.3% of Utah’s population has access to a standalone wired broadband internet plan under $60 per month,” the report read. “Even though there are 21 states with a lower ranking for overall performance, 12 of those states have a higher percentage of the population with access to affordable wired 25 (megabit per second) plans.”

    Utah cities with the “best overall broadband ecosystem” are, in descending order, Salt Lake City, Ogden, Provo, Centerville and Lindon. The worst places to find connections to broadband service are found in rural Utah communities, with San Juan and Daggett counties where access to internet speeds higher than 25 (megabits per second) is very limited.

    Last week, the Federal Communications Commission announced it had formally granted 154 applications for use of the 2.5 GHz band to provide broadband and other advanced wireless services, including 5G, to rural tribal communities.

    In Utah, there were four licenses granted that will help the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation, Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, and Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation provide connectivity to their rural communities.

    Tribal lands in Utah, and around the country, have been among the areas with the lowest levels of service from, and access to, internet and wireless phone providers.

    In announcing the new bandwidth allotments, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai noted the new licenses are intended to help address those imbalances.

    “This is a major step forward in our efforts to close the digital divide on tribal lands,” Pai said in a statement. “Few communities face the digital connectivity challenges faced by rural tribes. By prioritizing tribal access to this mid-band spectrum, we are ensuring that tribes can quickly access spectrum to connect their schools, homes, hospitals and businesses.”

  • UDOT putting final touches on I-15 Tech Corridor, completing 10-year expansion project
    Vehicles travel on I-15 in northern Utah County. The Utah Department of Transportation on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, announced the completion of the I-15 Technology Corridor project, which expanded the freeway from four to six lanes in both directions between Lehi Main Street and state Route 92. It marked the final phase in reconstructing I-15 in northern Utah County over the past decade, increasing capacity on the roadway from Bangerter Highway to Spanish Fork. | Utah Department of Transportation

    LEHI — For Utah County drivers, their decadelong highway construction odyssey may finally be coming to a close.

    The Utah Department of Transportation Friday announced the completion of the I-15 Technology Corridor project, which expanded the freeway from four to six lanes in both directions between Lehi Main Street and state Route 92. The milestone marked the final phase in reconstructing I-15 in northern Utah County over the past decade that increased vehicle capacity on the roadway from Bangerter Highway to Spanish Fork.

    At a cost of $415 million, this most recent project includes the state’s first one-way frontage road system, along with two redesigned interchanges and new trails for pedestrians and cyclists.

    “Before the project started, there was kind of a bottleneck in this 4-mile section. Now we have eliminated that,” said UDOT project director Boyd Humphreys. “We plan on seeing benefits in travel time throughout the project and it’s going to allow better access to the area.”

    Started in May 2018, the I-15 Technology Corridor is considered the final piece in reconstructing the freeway in northern Utah County, along with the I-15 CORE project, The Point project and the Access Utah County project — all completed since 2010 at a cost of just over $2.1 billion, he said.

    Utah Department of Transportation
    Vehicles travel on I-15 in northern Utah County. The Utah Department of Transportation on Friday, Oct. 30, 2020, announced the completion of the I-15 Technology Corridor project, which expanded the freeway from four to six lanes in both directions between Lehi Main Street and state Route 92. It marked the final phase in reconstructing I-15 in northern Utah County over the past decade, increasing capacity on the roadway from Bangerter Highway to Spanish Fork.

    He noted that despite the negative impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on so much along the Wasatch Front, early on in the outbreak crews took advantage of having fewer vehicles on the road to get more work done.

    “We were able to close some lanes during that time when traffic was down and do some things that normally we wouldn’t have been able to do because of the (heavier) traffic, so there were some benefits that really did help the project,” he said.

    UDOT said some remaining work will require occasional lane closures through mid-November to complete the installation of a multiuse trail for pedestrians and cyclists that includes a new pedestrian bridge and tunnel, as well as connections to existing local and regional trails. Crews will also install a concrete barrier, high-mast lighting and landscaping, traffic cameras and fiber optic connections, noise walls, fencing, signage, pavement markings and the final layer of pavement on Lehi Main Street bridge.

    Humphreys said that with the newly widened highway, motorists may feel a greater sense of openness that could potentially impact their style of driving. He urged drivers to take extra caution when traveling the expanded freeway.

    “(People) should obey the speed limit and drive safely out there,” he said. “Yeah, lanes are open and it feels like you can drive fast, but we want people to be safe.”

    The additional lanes on I-15 are designed to keep traffic in the heavily traveled area moving and improve quality of life for residents and commuters, said UDOT spokesman John Gleason. Travel times from the Point of the Mountain to Lehi Main Street in the afternoon commute will be reduced by up to 50%, he added, which will benefit the growing number of vehicles that drive in and around the northern Utah County area.

    “It’s definitely going to help the situation with the growth we’re seeing down there with all of the companies that are moving in here every year,” he said. “It’s become a technology hub, so that growth is going to continue and it’s important for us to stay on top of it — to be able to address the future and be able to deliver the best transportation system.”

    With the overall expansion of the I-15 freeway, UDOT has replaced aging infrastructure with new pavement that is designed to last another 40 years, built 17 new bridges — including a new bridge over I-15 at Triumph Boulevard in Lehi. The bridges are redesigned to accommodate the added lanes on I-15, the frontage road system and new active transportation features, which are designed to last 75 years, a news release stated.

    Gleason said the construction of revamped interchanges at Timpanogos Highway and 2100 North, along with the addition of several new on- and off-ramps between the interchanges will make it easier for drivers to enter and exit the freeway, as well as cross under it.

    “(We) really just focus on improving transportation all around this area, not solely on I-15,” he said. “(This project) is going to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow in general.”

    He said the completion of the last of the three projects will help the area continue its growth trend while addressing community travel needs today and into the future.

    “It’s astounding when you look at how Lehi has transformed over the last decade. It’s gone from a small town to one of the centers for technology in the world right now,” he said. “It’s really been a focal point, so we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to address that growth and make sure our freeways and state roads are ready to accommodate the growth we’ve seen here and we’ll continue to see.”

  • Utah has paid out $1.6 billion in unemployment benefits over 7 months
    The Utah Department of Workforce Services’ main administration building in Salt Lake City. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of Utahns are still filing for jobless benefits as the effects of the coronavirus outbreak continue to impact the economy.

    The state Department of Workforce Services Thursday reported the number of total new claims for unemployment benefits in the Beehive State registered at 3,993 for the week of Oct. 18 through Oct. 24 with a total of $12.5 million in benefits distributed. The agency also noted during that same week, there were 32,869 continued claims filed.

    Additionally, the report stated the number of people who have not requested benefits for two consecutive weeks as of Oct. 17 declined slightly to register at 3,919 from the previous week’s total of 4,713.

    “We continue to see a demand for the unemployment benefit during this pandemic and the staff have done an incredible job meeting that demand; paying out nearly $1.6 billion in benefits to eligible Utahns since March 2020,” said Unemployment Insurance Division director Kevin Burt.

    “It is critical to remember that while the unemployment benefit has been a great support to those whose employment has been disrupted by this pandemic, the benefit is time limited and active job search becomes increasingly more important for long-term stability.”

    Burt noted that in 2019, the average number of new claims the unemployment insurance division took was around 1,100 per week, but that was a very different economic climate than what is happening currently.

    “(Last year) was one of the lowest claim volumes that we (saw) in history. And then, of course, this pandemic resulted in a significant disruption and we’ve seen the highest number of claims that we’ve taken in history,” he said during the division’s weekly news conference.

    “We are expecting soon a seasonal increase,” Burt said. “There are individuals in certain industries that can work during certain climates, but then are unable to work during the winter seasons and have traditionally applied for unemployment insurance. So we are expecting an increase in claims as a result of that as this pandemic continues to be as disruptive as it has been.”

    Since March 15, the Unemployment Insurance Division has accepted 329,187 applications and paid out $1.576 billion in benefits. For comparison, last year the division took in 63,000 applications for the entire year. He added that Utahns should note, however, that jobless benefits are limited to 39 weeks in total, so job seekers should focus their efforts on finding employment wherever it might be available.

    “There certainly are limitations with the unemployment insurance program, and we want to make sure that we actively communicate those limitations, so that people can respond accordingly and act accordingly,” Burt said.

    To that end, officials say individuals who may need help with rental housing can apply for assistance.

    “We have funding from the (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) act for rent relief,” explained Department of Workforce Services assistant deputy director Nate McDonald. “If you are someone that is having a difficult time with paying your rent, this is a program that is available for you between now and the end of the year.

    “To help assist with rent relief we encourage you to go to rentrelief.utah.gov and take advantage of this program that is available to help you with your rent for the remaining months of this year.”

    The program is income-based, he added, but those who are struggling as a result of the pandemic are strongly encouraged to apply.

    Meanwhile, DWS reported that Utah’s jobless rate climbed nearly 20% from August to September registering at 5.0% last month. The data showed that more people are finding themselves in the market for gainful employment, which is creating a very competitive environment for those trying to land a job.

    McDonald said there are scores of employers looking to hire individuals across an array of industry sectors.

    “We have information technology, finance and banking, construction, health manufacturing, life sciences and advanced manufacturing,” he said. “We’ve seen a great increase in finance and banking with over 340 jobs posted (at jobs.utah.gov). Our health industry has a lot of needs right now. There is a great need for certified nursing assistants and nurses and other tech assistance in the health and medical industry. We have nearly 1,000 (health care) jobs posted just in our hot jobs web portal.”

    He said there has also been an increase in manufacturing and advanced manufacturing.

    “We encourage you to go to our hot job portal where we have over 2,300 jobs, but if you go into our portal and you don’t find what you want, just go into our advanced search tool, clear it out and you’ll be able to find that there’s more than 30,000 jobs.”

    “We know it is a competitive time, (but) we just encourage people to continue to look for work,” McDonald said. “Don’t give up, take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.”

  • Inside Gail Miller’s decision to sell the Utah Jazz
    Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell talks to team owner Gail Miller after the Jazz beat the Dallas Mavericks at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2018. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

    After much ‘soul searching’ and discussion, family determined selling franchise was the right decision

    When the stunning announcement came that the Utah Jazz had been sold, there was one question that almost everyone asked: What would Larry have done?

    The late Larry H. Miller, the man who risked his entire fortune and more to keep the Jazz in Salt Lake City, famously vowed that they would never leave and that selling the team would be tantamount “to selling Canyonlands.”

    Gail Miller, who became owner and chairman of the board of the Jazz’s parent company after her husband passed away in 2009, asked herself the same question — what would Larry do? So did the family management group, which ultimately makes the decisions for the family trust (the Jazz were placed in the family trust when it was created in 2017 to keep the franchise in Utah).

    “Obviously, when we started talking about the idea (of selling the team), what-would-Larry-do came up,” Gail Miller said in an exclusive interview with the Deseret News Wednesday afternoon. “I think my most overriding feeling is that I don’t think Larry cares. When he was dying it was really evident that this world no longer mattered to him. His attention was diverted to more important things.

    “He put me in charge. He told me, ‘You’re going to be the trustee. You’ve got the institutional knowledge. You do what you think is best.’ He had faith in my judgment and ability to make decisions and take care of things.”

    After a thorough and open discussion with the family management group — which consists of her five children and grandson — she says they agreed the time was right to sell the team.

    “We all had to come to the conclusion on our own,” said Miller. “Some were slower to come to the party. In the end we all saw the wisdom in this decision, which opens an asset we can do so much more with.”

    Long before Jazz sponsor and Utah native Ryan Smith agreed to buy the team for a reported $1.66 billion, the Millers had been discussing ways to diversify their business. Their board of directors had been encouraging diversification and strategic planning for the future. The sale of the Jazz will provide the means to do just that, as well as pursue other philanthropic efforts by the family foundation.

    “We can diversify our business, enrich lives, continue to be what we are in a different venue,” Miller said. “We don’t know what that is. We’re going to take time, survey the land, see what’s out there, see what we’d like to do, what would be exciting for us. We’ve got this next generation (of family) coming up that’s really interested in being involved in the business. This will give them opportunities for new ways to be engaged.”

    The Millers had previously rebuffed offers to buy the Jazz, one of them coming soon after Larry Miller died. “We were not looking to sell the Jazz,” said Miller, who says Smith himself had made several inquiries about buying an interest in the franchise. “We always said no.”

    His interest in buying all or some portion of an NBA team was no secret and for that reason he received inquiries about teams on the market. Smith traveled to one NBA city to explore the possibility of buying a minority piece of a franchise but decided he wasn’t getting enough for the money. In January he was in serious negotiations for the purchase of another team, when he met Miller at the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit, where Gail was one of the keynote speakers.

    After asking to speak to her as she came off the stage, he sought her advice about buying and owning a team. After about an hour he again inquired about the future of the Jazz and the possibility of buying into that franchise. Miller says she told him the Jazz were not for sale but good luck with his new team.

    Smith, who built his fortune with the Qualtrics tech company, ultimately decided not to buy other teams for the simple reason that they were not in Utah, where he lived and grew up. Things got more serious at the end of August when the Real Salt Lake soccer team went up for sale. Smith tweeted his interest in buying that franchise and discussed it with Steve Starks, CEO of the Miller Group of Companies. At some point Smith again expressed his interest in buying the Jazz and this time made a more specific offer. Starks asked, “Is this a conversation or is this an offer?” Smith said it was an offer and Starks took it to Gail Miller and her son Steve.

    It was not only an offer, it was what Gail called “a bonafide offer.”

    “We discussed it,” she said. “We looked at the pros and cons. It got us thinking — we are doing all this strategic planning and talking about diversifying. This is interesting timing. Then we convened the family management group. We had a lot of long, hard discussions and soul searching. What will this do to our employees? How will the public feel? Will the public think we’re bailing out? How would Dad (Larry) feel? But in the end … all six of us determined it was right.”

    Miller continues. “We were not looking to sell the Jazz. The offer came to us. We decided because Ryan opened the door with a bonafide offer and one that would keep the Jazz here. It was like everything fell in place. There were just too many things coming together that pointed to an opportunity ahead of us. As Ryan came on the scene he was feeling the same way. He felt it was something he was guided to do. With his liquidation of Qualtrics this was an opportunity he could take on.”

    Smith, 42, and his wife Ashley are about the same age as Larry and Gail were when they bought the team. Sources say Smith considers the Jazz ownership “a stewardship,” a term the Millers have used frequently. Smith, who grew up in Provo and attended Utah Valley University and BYU, told one acquaintance, “This move is the greatest insurance you could get to keep the team here. I’m a Utahn. I grew up here. If I wanted to buy outside of Utah, I would have. I’m not moving.”

    Says Miller, “Ryan has promised (the team will remain in Utah). We believe in it. We are convinced that’s his goal.”

    She says one comment she hears is that people believe she had violated the family trust that was designed to keep the team here. “All I can say is that the purpose of the trust is being fulfilled. I kept it in the trust to keep it in Utah, which prevented it from being sold without permission of the whole management group. We would not have sold it if it had not been promised that it would stay in Utah, so we are fulfilling the purpose of the trust.”

    Miller said the selling of the Jazz is certainly bittersweet, especially when it comes to the relationships she built with employees, most of whom she believes share the loyalty and love the Millers feel about the Jazz and the company. “They’re all family to me, from the janitors to management,” she said. “I care about them. I hope they enjoy working with Ryan and that he understands the relationships there. One of the reasons we sold to Ryan is he shares our values. He and his wife visited me a couple of weeks ago to try to understand things so they could do what we did. I told them, don’t ever forget your values. It comes through in everything you do. Larry used to say, don’t believe your press clippings; you’re only as important as you are to your family and those who love you.”

    Gail, who is retaining a minority interest in the team, always attended the games with Larry even though she didn’t always want to be there. She wasn’t even able to visit with him or any of the guests who were invited to sit with them because Larry said it looked like she wasn’t paying attention to the team. She wanted to skip some of the games, but Larry feared it would appear there was something wrong with their marriage. And yet after Larry was gone, she soldiered on and continued to show up at the games anyway, carrying out the duties he had filled. She says she will continue to attend games.

    “(Smith) told me I can take a vacation now and then,” she says, smiling. “It’s hard to break that habit.”

    Miller wraps things up by saying, “People say Larry would turn over in his grave if he knew I sold the team. How do they know what Larry would do? When Larry was on his deathbed, he told me, ‘Stay in long enough to be a bridge till the family is ready to decide what they want to do.’ The real message is that I am the owner of the company and everything I’ve done is with Larry’s blessing.

    “I feel very much at peace. I’d like to think I’ve honored Larry in all I’ve done.”

  • Innovative Utah women honored for use of technology to mitigate COVID-19 impact
    Melissa Bueno Hamilton, director of Elementary Teaching and Learning for the Murray City School District, shows her Digital Education Innovator award to Karsen Ball and his mom, Mindy Ball, who works of the district, during the Women Tech Awards at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. The awards recognized the women and innovations spurring economic growth, driving innovation and fighting COVID-19. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

    LEHI — In a year dominated by the negative impacts of the pandemic, a group of exceptional Utah women are being honored for their ingenuity in helping to propel growth by driving innovation in various sectors of the state’s economy.

    The Women Tech Council — a Utah-based organization that works to amplify the impact of women in the technology sector — issued its annual Women Tech Awards Wednesday recognizing the innovations of women statewide who have had a profound effect on their industries in the fight to mitigate COVID-19.

    When the coronavirus outbreak struck earlier this year, it had a major impact on the lives of practically everyone in the state, especially school-age children, as well as the teachers and staff charged with educating them. Some school districts struggled to figure out a workable plan for continuing their curriculum programming, but one of the smaller Wasatch Front districts was among the first to transition to a workable virtual model.

    “I knew that technology could open up the gateway and open up the doors to better impact students’ learning and to impact equity and open up different avenues for some of the underrepresented populations in our students,” said Melissa Hamilton, director of Elementary Teaching and Learning for the Murray City School District. “That’s kind of how I came into that tech bowl, just my passion for being able to service underserved populations and knowing that technology is that avenue.”

    She said when the pandemic hit, she employed Google Earth Pro to map out students by demographic profile. What the district discovered was the same students who weren’t accessing their learning sufficiently were the same students that were economically disadvantaged. Upon further review, they noticed the disadvantaged students were clustered in a few apartment complexes in the area.

    “We discovered that because they lived in those apartment complexes, their connectivity to the internet was limited or nonexistent,” Hamilton said. “We actually went to those apartment complexes and housing developments to talk to the owners and found out (internet service) was part of their rental agreement but it just wasn’t very fast.”

    Because the high school was closed due to the pandemic, the district was able to repurpose 300 wireless access points and installed the access points around the affected apartment buildings, thereby providing those underserved students the internet capability needed to effectively stream their online educational instruction.

    Another innovator who was recognized was Ancestry CEO Margo Georgiadis, whose company organized the largest ever genetic study with living participants to mine data on COVID-19 susceptibility and other genetic influencers.

    “We have 20 million people in our genomics network, which we’ve used to really focus on helping people understand their ancestry. But that data also includes a lot of rich information about the human genome, and that coupled with asking people to take a survey (which) included a lot of really in-depth questions (regarding exposure, infection rates, hospitalization rates),” she explained. “People also included information around other comorbidities they might have and medications they might be taking so that we would have a rich set of both genetic information, and what we call phenotypic information so that we would be able to correlate those two things together with a massive analytics engine.”

    The survey was returned by 800,000 individuals, she noted.

    “The fact that we were able to recruit 800,000 people enabled us to have a scale of data that’s just never been seen. To be able to — in real time — to understand who’s been impacted, what their reaction was, what their exposure level was, what kind of jobs they have — all these different factors that we all know are important in the understanding of this disease and how it’s being spread.”

    For their efforts, Hamilton received the Digital Education Innovator award, while Georgiadis was recognized as this year’s Trailblazer award winner. Each of the 13 award recipients was selected for their impact on the technology sector and the Utah economy, along with their community contributions, a news release states.

    Seven other finalists were also recognized for their contributions, including Kristiane Koontz, of Zions Bancorp., for Technology Transformation Excellence; Linda Klug, of Airin, for Founder Leadership; Qun (Maxine) Liu, of Health Catalyst, received the Strategic Innovator award; Rebecca Whitehead, of HealthEquity, won for Technology Leadership; Seraphine Kapsandoy-Jones, of Intermountain Healthcare, was honored for Operational Excellence; Wendy Steinle, of Adobe, for Leadership Excellence; and Jennifer Morales, of Weber State University, was the Student Pathway recipient.

    “In a year when each of us has lost so much, the vision and inspiration these women bring through their stories and accomplishments has never been more needed,” said Women Tech Council President Cydni Tetro. “Through their innovations and leadership in health care, education, fintech, (artificial intelligence), engineering and nearly every other tech field, they are creating economic opportunities, uniting the community and inspiring the technology workforce to lift each other above the obstacles we are all facing.”

    Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
    Women Tech Council President Cydni Tetro speaks at the Women Tech Awards at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi on Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. The awards recognized the women and innovations spurring economic growth, driving innovation and fighting COVID-19.

    In addition to the recognitions, the awards program also marked the launch of the Women Tech Talent Pipeline Alliance — a joint effort by Women Tech Council, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, Code in Color, Latinas in Tech Utah, United Way, the state Department of Workforce Services and Tech Moms. The collaborative effort will work to expand the talent pipeline for women in technology across all demographics, races, socio-economic statuses, and life circumstances, Tetro said. Combining the efforts of these organizations will expand opportunity, resources, outreach and support offered to women, ultimately providing greater impact and reach, she said.

    “We’re only at 23.5% of the (tech) workforce and in the state we have equal men and women, basically,” Tetro said. “We want that workforce to increase so that we have equal men and women in these high-paying tech jobs, and we do that by highlighting them and giving them recognition and celebrating them, showing the power of their talents in the economy.”

  • The NBA’s newest owner has an unmistakable love of basketball
    20180202 Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith, left, plays basketball with employees at the business in Orem on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

    The evidence of Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith’s love of basketball is unmistakable for anyone who visits the company’s Provo headquarters.

    Walk through the doors and, instead of the typical whiz-bang lobby of a highly successful tech company, you’ll instead have stepped foot onto the hardwood of a basketball half-court, emblazoned with the Qualtrics logo.

    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
    Qualtrics CEO Ryan Smith, left, plays basketball with employees at the business in Provo on Friday, Feb. 2, 2018.

    And, it’s no showpiece.

    The new Utah Jazz owner has been a baller both on and off the court since long before Wednesday’s announcement of his acquisition of the Utah Jazz in a deal that also includes Vivint Arena, the G League’s Salt Lake City Stars and “management” of the Salt Lake Bees.

    Qualtrics was founded in Provo in 2002 by Ryan Smith and Jared Smith based on technology first developed by Ryan Smith and his father, BYU researcher and professor Scott Smith, amid the elder Smith’s fight (it was successful) against throat cancer.

    Initially conceived of as a survey tool for academics, the company morphed into a set of tools and deep data analysis optimized for assessing clients’ business vitality, as viewed through the eyes of their clients and/or employees.

    Unlike many tech startups that seek, and secure, investment capital without much more than an idea and snazzy presentation deck, Qualtrics was profitable very early on and chose to bootstrap growth funding themselves without the backing of venture capitalists.

    Qualtrics
    Former President Barack Obama speaks with Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith during the company’s annual user summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center on Wednesday, March 6, 2019.

    Almost a decade later, when the company began signing on investors, it attracted the interest of Silicon Valley’s heaviest hitters, though Smith said the company was always more interested in the expertise Qualtrics could leverage through the deals than the big checks that came with them.

    As further proof of Smith’s commitment to hacking his own path through the fast-moving world of high technology, he famously declined a $500 million cash offer for the company in 2012. Instead, Smith chose to continue growing Qualtrics as it was quickly becoming the go-to platform for business clients across numerous sectors.

    Just days before a public stock offering was set to launch in 2018, Qualtrics announced it was acquired by European software giant SAP. While Qualtrics’ estimated value ahead of the IPO was around $5 billion, SAP turned the heads of tech industry watchers by offering a staggering $8 billion for the company.

    In a letter included in an SEC filing ahead of the IPO and signed by Ryan and Jared Smith, the brothers underscored the goals that had driven their company’s success:

    “Our mission is to help organizations leverage experience management to turn their customers into fanatics, employees into ambassadors, brands into religions, and products into obsessions. From our earliest days, we knew that if we were going to do something special we had to write our own playbook, not follow someone else’s.”

    Ryan, Jared and Scott Smith’s share of the SAP windfall was reportedly around $3 billion. Forbes estimates Ryan Smith’s personal net worth at around $1.3 billion.

    Ryan Smith, 42, is a vociferous sports fan and anyone who follows his social media feeds knows that he’s a proud backer of all things BYU athletics (his alma mater) and a longtime supporter of the Jazz, both as a fan and the guy writing checks as the team’s jersey patch sponsor.

    When the NBA signed off on sponsored patches for player jerseys in 2017, the Jazz became a standout for a team whose patch was touting a philanthropic effort rather than a corporate brand.

    Steve Griffin, Deseret News
    Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith speaks during the second day of the Qualtrics X4 Summit at the Salt Palace Convention Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 7, 2019.

    Smith struck an agreement with the Jazz that year for an undisclosed but likely multimillion-dollar contract to feature the logo of Smith’s cancer fighting charity effort — 5 for the Fight — on player jerseys. That deal was re-upped last fall to run through the 2022-23 season with a global campaign that invites individuals to donate $5 for efforts to find a cure for cancer. The effort has so far raised over $24 million.

    While Qualtrics has grown its national and international footprint under the SAP umbrella, including a new co-headquarters in Seattle, the company has also doubled down on its commitment to Utah with a mammoth expansion of its Provo facility in the works.

    Last year saw a series of new Qualtrics offices opened around the world.

    In September, the company unveiled the Qualtrics Tower co-headquarters project in Seattle which spans 275,000 square feet and will become the eventual home for more than 2,000 employees. In October, Qualtrics announced a new office building in Dublin where the company will create 350 additional jobs, doubling the number of employees in that region to more than 700. And in November, the company announced a new 25,000-square-foot office in Chicago that will house 200 employees along the city’s riverfront.

    The company currently has 25 offices around the world with over 3,000 employees and plans to grow to more than 8,000 employees by 2023. Qualtrics serves more than 11,000 organizations in over 100 countries.

    While Smith’s company has a global footprint, the new Jazz owner alluded to keeping the Jazz in Utah in a Wednesday press release.

    “We all owe a great debt to the Miller family for the amazing stewardship they have had over this asset for the past 35 years,” Smith said. “My wife and I are absolutely humbled and excited about the opportunity to take the team forward far into the future — especially with the greatest fans in the NBA. The Utah Jazz, the state of Utah, and its capital city are the beneficiaries of the Millers’ tremendous love, generosity and investment.

    “We look forward to building upon their lifelong work.”

  • Fly away: Salt Lake opens second concourse at new billion-dollar airport
    Mark Ginestro and his daughter, Anna, board the first flight out of the new Concourse B at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

    SALT LAKE CITY — Up, up and away! Utah’s capital city now has a fully functioning new airport.

    The first flight from Concourse B at Salt Lake City International Airport took off early Tuesday morning bound for Oakland, California, via Southwest Airlines departing just after 7 a.m.

    Concourse B opened with 21 gates to be used by Alaska Airlines, American, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest and United. Last month, the majority of the facility — dubbed The New SLC — officially began operations with Delta Air Lines occupying 25 gates in Concourse A-west, including six international gates.

    It is the culmination of years of planning and billions of dollars of construction work, as well as the end of an era, officials said.

    “It’s a fine day. It’s mixed emotions because we’re saying goodbye to this really remarkable old airport, which served this community so well for so long, so many memories for the people of Salt Lake and Utah. On the other hand, we have this brand-new state-of-the-art airport,” said Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports. “Today is like icing on the cake. It’s been six weeks since the successful opening of The New SLC and today we welcome all of our airline partners to their new home in Concourse B, which completes Phase I of the project,”

    To commemorate the completion, the city held a ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the inaugural flight departure at gate B17. As of midnight, aircraft stopped loading and unloading passengers in the former airport concourses C, F and G. All airlines serving the airport are now operating out of entirely new facilities, Wyatt added.

    “We have terminated use of the old airport, which will soon be demolished in anticipation of the next phase of this airport,” he said. “So very exciting. It’s great to see real people here, masked up, social distancing, about to get on an airplane for the first time in this concourse.”

    Concourse B will include three new local restaurants and five new shops. More dining options and retail are expected to come online as passenger volume increases, he said.

    In an homage to the old and new, a 990-foot tunnel — originally built in 2004 — connects the A and B concourses. Passengers are treated to artwork representing the four seasons of Utah as they pass through the tunnel. Salt Lake City-based artist Traci O’Very Covey created images for summer and fall, while winter and spring images were painted by a Texas-based artist.

    “I just thought about how wonderful it is to live in Utah and loved the four seasons. It was right up my alley because my artwork is always inspired by nature, and just what I call the grace and joy of everyday life, things that inspire me. I was just really thrilled and honored to be a part of this new airport,” O’Very Covey said. “I think artwork in public spaces is just a wonderful way to uplift people’s daily lives. That’s what my intention is to offer something beautiful and of value to people, especially when people are rushing through an airport and they’re hurried trying to get someplace. To come across something beautiful that’s unexpected, that can just give them a boost, lift their spirits and offer them a moment of beautiful art.”

    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
    Passengers walk through a tunnel to Concourse B at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

    Kaysville resident Victoria Bradshaw was among the first passengers to experience the new concourse. She said it should be an upgrade for travelers.

    “It’s exciting. I have friends that work here and it’s been a long, long road, a long time coming. But it’s exciting that it’s finally done,” she said. “ I’ve flown out of this airport since I’ve lived here probably 20 times in the last two years. And it’s a huge, huge improvement.”

    Steve Hardy, of Salt Lake City, was traveling for business and was surprised by the celebration when he arrived at the gate for his flight.

    “I was just told that they were moving us from (concourse) F to B, and then we came over here,” he said. “I enjoy traveling. The new airport is going to be great for Salt Lake City for Utah moving forward.”

    Construction on the $4.1 billion airport redevelopment project began in July 2014. The new facility offers state-of-the-art technology and amenities, including electronics plug-ins available at each seat in the gate areas, gates that employ an aircraft docking system to provide pilots active guidance for precise automated aircraft parking, as well as eight restrooms ensuring passengers are never more than 150 feet away from the next restroom facility, a news release stated.

    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
    A Southwest airplane is escorted as it takes the first flight from the new Concourse B at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

    With Phase I of the project complete, demolition is underway on the remaining structures of the old facility so crews can begin on the next phase. Phase II will include the build-out of Concourse A to the east and construction of a concrete section of a permanent tunnel to transport passengers between concourses A and B.

    That construction is scheduled for completion in late 2024, with the ability to add eight gates in a second phase, and 15 gates in a third phase, if future growth warrants, Wyatt said.

    The new airport project was paid for by the airlines, without any local taxpayer funding. Steve Sisneros, managing director of airport affairs for Southwest Airlines, said the new facility will benefit carriers and travelers alike.

    “This is a milestone for the community first, and for Bill Wyatt and his team at the airport that constructed this, especially during the middle of a pandemic, you have to celebrate something of this magnitude,” he said. “For our employees that live and work here in Salt Lake, this is a new home for them. And this is an exciting new era for them that’s going to last for generations.

    “The traveling public is just going to probably just be swiveling their head back and forth as they look at the artwork, the illumination, the lights and just being able to spread out and just enjoy the amenities of this first-rate facility,” he added.

    For Chandler McClellan, construction manager for contractor Austin-Okland Joint Venture, the completion was somewhat bittersweet. A veteran in the construction business, he has led crews in the building of six other airport projects across the country. He said he will miss working on such an important project.

    “The word I would use was kind of sad. All this excitement, all the synergy, the trials and tribulations, it’s been hard. It’s been tough. And now we’re there, it’s over. So in a way, I’m kind of sad,” he said. “It takes a lot of teamwork. Sometimes you have to learn to give. Sometimes you have to make sure you get what you need. But in a word, it’s about teamwork.”

    Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
    Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall, left, Bill Wyatt, executive director of the Salt Lake City Department of Airports, and Steve Sisneros, managing director of airport affairs for Southwest Airlines, cut the ribbon as Concourse B opens and Southwest Airlines take the first flight at the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

    He said hundreds of people were involved in the construction of the facility and each person should be proud of the work they contributed. For himself, it has been the culmination of a lifelong fascination he’s had with airports and aviation.

    “As a kid, I have always loved airplanes. I love building and I love airplanes, so this is perfect for me,” McClellan said. “I want people to come into these buildings and just see what we’ve done. I want them to feel the space. I want them to enjoy watching the aircraft.”

    “I just want people to really feel how airports function,” he said. “It’s a fascinating experience.”

  • Deseret News, Salt Lake Tribune will not renew Joint Operating Agreement
    The MediaOne building in West Valley City is pictured on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. | Steve Griffin, Deseret News

    Salt Lake Tribune announces weekly newspaper, will stop daily print publication

    The Salt Lake Tribune Monday said the news organization will print a weekly publication beginning next year and end its daily print option for subscribers of the newspaper.

    The Tribune’s board of directors announced the decision Monday, shortly after The Tribune and the Deseret News released a joint statement confirming the end of the decadeslong Joint Operating Agreement between the Deseret News and The Salt Lake Tribune at the end of 2020.

    With the end of the JOA, both publications will contract their printing needs with third parties, continue to enhance their digital footprints and will be free to chart their print and digital futures independently of the other.

    “In the era of large printing presses, the benefits of these joint operating agreements were significant. But today’s situation is different,” said Brent Low, president and CEO of Utah Media Group, which manages the printing facility. “Demand for a printed newspaper is a fraction of what it was historically, while digital content and distribution is everywhere, and our clients can get their papers printed in a cost-effective way without owning their own presses.”

    The change does not signal an end to newspaper print publications, but is a change in how printing will be accomplished. Low said he met with the 161 employees of Utah Media Group Monday to announce the coming end of the printing company, detailing severance packages.

    In addition, the Deseret News announced related changes in a staffwide meeting Monday, noting severance packages for 18 employees, the majority in the newspaper’s visual editing and sales departments, some of which will occur some time next year. Six journalists in three departments were let go.

    “Any change and restructuring can be painful, but we are committed to organizing ourselves in a way that will help us invest in some of the finest journalism and commentary in the country and increase our reach not just locally, but nationally and internationally,” Jeff Simpson, president and publisher of the Deseret News, said. Further announcements are expected Tuesday, Simpson said.

    The Salt Lake-based printing facility is managed by Utah Media Group. The business also includes contracts with regional editions of several state and national newspapers and other publications.

    “The Deseret News has been an outstanding and constructive partner in the JOA in this financially tumultuous industry,” said Paul Huntsman, chairman of the Salt Lake Tribune. “As The Tribune moves forward, our commitment to our readers is unchanged: to provide reliable and informative news, analysis, and commentary to our readers,” he said in the press release.

    Simpson also lauded the partnership of the two newspapers, which maintained separate and independent newsrooms throughout the duration of the Joint Operating Agreement.

    “The Salt Lake Tribune has been a great partner over the years and the partnership has benefited the community in many ways. We love our thousands of print subscribers along with the millions who read us online every month,” Simpson said in the press release. Joint Operating Agreements were protected by the Newspaper Preservation Act of 1970 under the administration of President Richard Nixon.

    The federal legislation created carve outs in antitrust regulation to allow publications to share certain resources while maintaining separate and independent news gathering and editorial functions. Overseen by the U.S. Department of Justice, and intended to create viability for newspapers in the face of declining readership, the Deseret News-Salt Lake Tribune deal is among the last joint operating agreements in the country to end.

    Current news markets bear little resemblance to those of even 10 years ago, let alone a half-century removed from the advent of the practice.

    The Deseret News was founded in 1850 and is Utah’s oldest continuously operating business. It is part of the portfolio of media entities of Deseret Management Corp., owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    The Salt Lake Tribune was purchased by Huntsman from Alden Capital in 2016. Last fall, the Tribune earned approval from the Internal Revenue Service to become a 501(c)(3) public charity, opening the door for opportunities to seek tax-deductible support from readers and philanthropists.

    The printing presses are scheduled to be shuttered sometime after the first of the new year.