The year: 2002.

The setting: A dark, smokey club in a mid-sized college town.

(Yes, I am old enough to remember when we people chose the slow death of smoking over the sudden, crippling onset of Evali, or e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury. Apparently both doctors and politicians learn how to make something terrifying sound like the fine print on a credit card bill.)

The question: "Where are you from?

The answer: "Utah."

The response?

One of the following:

  • A quizzical look that perfectly communicated the following word: "Where?"
  • The person across from you asking, "So, are you Mormon?"
  • A quizzical look, followed by the person asking "Where?" followed by the person asking "So, are you Mormon?"

I grew up in Park City, Utah, a ski town thirty miles east of downtown Salt Lake City. I moved away in 2002 to attend college in another state. Whenever anyone asked me where I originally came from, the series of looks and questions described began like clockwork.

At the beginning of this century, the Utah I left was defined almost entirely by mountains and the Mormon Church.

Today, the ski slopes surrounding the Wasatch Front continue to attract millions of skiers and snowboarders every year, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints plays a large role in the state's culture and economy.

But so do Facebook, Adobe, Goldman Sachs, SoFi, Dell EMC, and the other companies that have built campuses, data centers, and other facilities in Utah. The result has been a sustained economic boom that has led Utah to consistently rank as one of the nation's most economically diverse, dynamic, and successful states.

Countless other cities, regions, and states are trying to establish a culture of entrepreneurship and business success.

Why has Utah succeeded?

"There is a stereotype about Utah that says our workforce is abnormally talented, educated, and dedicated," said Theresa Foxley, President and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah. "In this case, the stereotype is true. Companies know they can find a skilled labor pool here. Our political and civic leaders have also created a business-friendly culture that encourages entrepreneurship. The result is an economy that gets stronger every year."

The state and its communities have also made significant investments in infrastructure, including the $4.1B renovation of Salt Lake City International Airport. And while the state's growing technology and financial sectors have led to nicknames like "The Silicon Slopes" and "The Wall Street of the West," the nation's most diverse state economy boasts strong construction, manufacturing, outdoor recreation, and filmmaking sectors.

"We are becoming a destination for major companies, high-potential startups, and small businesses specifically because they value this region's cautious, pro-business culture," said Brandon Hill, founder of Mountain Standard Time Marketing. "It might sound a little boring, but the 'Utah Way' often leads to success. Our unique corporate environment is one reason why more businesses are planting their flag in and around Salt Lake."

The year: 2020.

The setting: A dark, smokeless club.

The question: "Where are you from?"

The answer: "Utah."

The response?

"Really? My cousin in an engineer for Adobe and lives in Salt Lake. He loves it."

That answer is the result of one of America's most successful economic development strategies.

And it's an answer that continues to draw some of the nation's most innovative companies.