Part one: The Early Days
One Friday afternoon in October of 1987, 30-year-old Alan Rindlisbacher wrapped up his work as the economic development director for the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce. The following Monday morning he was still economic development director, but for a completely different organization. His office, desk and title were the same, but now he worked for the Utah Economic Development Corporation (UEDC), a non-profit organization spun out of the Chamber by its own board of directors and its President and CEO, Fred Ball.
Rindlisbacher was one of four original staff members at UEDC. The others were Sherm Wilkinson, Cheryl Smith and Jennifer Rogers. Such was the 1987 team that began what would later become the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah).
Committee of 100
In 1984, before Rindlisbacher went to work for the Chamber and before the organization of the UEDC, many disparate groups at the local, county and state levels, along with the various Chambers of Commerce, were operating their own economic development programs. It was a time of little unity and a lot of fragmentation and duplication of efforts across the economic development landscape. The Salt Lake Chamber had organized what it called "the Committee of 100," modeled after a similar organization in Tampa, FL, where economic development was vibrant. Led by Gary Birdsall, who was also economic development director for Mountain Fuel Supply, the committee was comprised of 100 Utah companies, each investing $1,000 "or whatever it was back then," says Rindlisbacher, to run the economic development program. The budget, which amounted to approximately $100,000, was enough to let the Chamber to do proactive, out-of-state outreach and marketing "like never before."
Meanwhile, representatives from Weber, Davis, Salt Lake and Utah Counties, along with the Salt Lake Chamber and other organizations, banded together under a coordinated effort with the state to form what was called "Metro Utah," an organization focused on unifying and connecting the city and county economic development programs. Metro Utah unified many of the economic development organizations along the Wasatch Front and worked under the auspices of the state's economic development program, according to Rindlisbacher.
Nonetheless, cohesiveness was yet to be found. "We were working together better, but the economic development activities were still fragmented," Rindlisbacher continues. Further, many of those economic development organizations were relying heavily on financial support from Utah's major utilities, such as Mountain Fuel Supply (predecessor to Questar Corporation), Utah Power & Light (predecessor to Rocky Mountain Power), Mountain Bell Telephone (predecessor to CenturyLink) and other businesses.
Utah Economic Development Corporation
The utilities were dealing with funding requests from all over the state, explains Rindlisbacher. So in 1987, Nick Rose, who was president and CEO of Mountain Fuel Supply and chairman of the board for the Salt Lake Chamber, and could see the disconnect between the numerous different economic development organizations, said, "There had to be a better way."
"I give Nick the credit. There may have been others engaged in those discussions, but Nick was chairman of the board at the Chamber and got the support of the entire board behind him," explains Rindlisbacher. "Nick led the decision to create a private, non-profit economic development organization that would have a state-wide presence and serve as a catalyst to bring all of the local programs together in what would be one economic development organization, with one voice -- one source by which economic development marketing would be done. The new organization would be called the Utah Economic Development Corporation."
Much as EDCUtah's board is today, the UEDC board of directors would be comprised of leaders from both the public and private sectors. Nick Rose served as its first chair. The first step for UEDC was to find a CEO. A six-month national search led to the hiring of Rick Thrasher as the first president and CEO. Thrasher came on board in approximately April 1988. "He stepped up the organization to his notch, his direction, and away we went," Rindlisbacher recollects.
In the five and a half years that Rindlisbacher worked for UEDC, the staff grew to over a dozen. Two of those early hires included John Hiskey (now deputy to Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan), who came over from Salt Lake City Corporation, and Jill Remington Love (now a member of the Salt Lake City Council).
As UEDC grew, its relationship with economic developers working for the governor was occasionally strained, perhaps due to competition between the two economic development organizations, Rindlisbacher continues. "We worked on a lot of joint projects. They would pull some projects in and share them with us, but it took a lot of finesse to build a partnership and remove the competition. The model has proven itself over time, but it has taken a lot of patience and trust."
In the fall of 1992, Thrasher departed Utah for other economic development climes. Rindlisbacher became interim president of UEDC, but says he really shared the leadership role with his friend, John Hiskey. Another national search led to the hiring of Michael Lawson as CEO. Shortly thereafter Rindlisbacher left UEDC to work in economic development for the state, where he focused his attention on building economic development in rural Utah. Meanwhile, Lawson grew the UEDC team by hiring Chris Roybal, a key leader who had been working in economic development for the State of Utah.
Roybal then Edwards
Lawson ran UEDC for several years and then, like his predecessor, departed Utah for other opportunities. Roybal, who had served as Lawson's assistant, then became the UEDC's fourth president and CEO. It was during Roybal's tenure that the organization changed its name to the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. During this period, the public/private economic development model continued to prove itself and support from local governments and the private sector continued to grow. In 2001, Roybal hired Jeffrey Edwards as EDCUtah's vice president of business development. Edwards came to EDCUtah from the private sector.
Roybal led EDCUtah until the election of Gov. Jon Huntsman, Jr. in 2004, when the Governor tapped him to become his senior advisor for economic development. Roybal's departure from EDCUtah opened the door for Edwards, who became EDCUtah's fifth president and CEO in 2004. Under Edwards' leadership EDCUtah has expanded both its reach and voice as the catalyst for economic development for the entire State of Utah. But that's another story. Read more about EDCUtah's history and growth in future issues of the Economic Review.
(Alan Rindlisbacher now serves as director of corporate marketing for The Layton Companies. EDCUtah appreciates his knowledge and recollection of EDCUtah's early history. If you have highlights to add to this story, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)