Utah to shut down its innovation incubator

One of USTAR's facilities, the USTAR Bio Innovations Center (Gramoll Construction)

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As many states build new mechanisms to support technological innovation in their economies, Utah is dismantling an old one. A bill to eliminate a program called the Utah Science, Technology and Research Initiative — or USTAR — was approved by lawmakers on Tuesday and now heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Gary Herbert.

Created in 2006 by Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr., USTAR was originally designed to recruit researchers and build interdisciplinary development facilities across the state. With support from the University of Utah and Utah State University, the program was envisioned as a new way stimulate the state’s tech economy.

Companies supported by USTAR have received $123 million in funding and created 424 full-time and part-time jobs as of 2016, according to the state. The program’s growth led to the opening of the USTAR Innovation Center in 2017, a tech incubation facility at the Falcon Hill National Aerospace Research Park in Clearfield. Between the Innovation Center and other incubator facilities, companies supported through the program have enjoyed a 25 percent success rate, compared to a national success rate for new companies of 15 percent, according to a 2018 report on USTAR’s progress.

In fiscal year 2018, the program received $22 million in funding, divided between competitive grant programs, university research and services to support entrepreneurs.

But Republican state Sen. Scott Sandall told StateScoop in an email that his bill will dissolve USTAR’s governing board in July, terminate the grant program and ensure all the program’s debts are paid. The program’s lease agreements will also be terminated, except for the Falcon Hill facility, which will be transferred to the Military Installation Development Authority.

One piece of the program that remains is the Small Business Innovation Research program, which Sandall said will continue working in conjunction with Salt Lake Community College.

Innovation lives on

As Herbert contemplates shutting down a longstanding innovation engine, other governors are telegraphing plans to fuel their own new efforts for workforce and economic development.

Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak said his state has become “ground zero for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” pointing to facilities run by Tesla and plans by Blockchains LLC to build an “innovation park” in the northern part of the state.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans this year to revive a state innovation network designed to unite academia and private industry “to grow the fields of artificial intelligence and quantum computing in New York.”

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is introducing innovation into his state’s data economy as he calls on the public to develop a detailed implementation for what he calls a “data dividend,” a program that would have companies pay consumers for the personal information they are gathering.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem called on the state’s economic development office in January to identify the next generation of targeted industries so the state can attract the most innovative new companies.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers directed his state’s economic development office to start an innovation and entrepreneurship committee to support small companies and seed new business.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson called in January for the formation of a new public-facing innovation workgroup that would target new industries including cybersecurity, data analytics and blockchain technology.

“One of my goals for Arkansas is to be a hub of technology companies that will provide new opportunity and diversity to our economy,” Hutchinson said.

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Innovation, Utah
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