Silicon Slopes CEO worries Utah could turn out like California on housing

The heart of Utah’s tech community is still far from the astronomical housing prices in Silicon Valley, but affordability is getting worse.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The ribbon cutting ceremony for Podium's new Lehi headquarters, Wednesday Aug. 15, 2018. Podium helps small businesses manage their web presence. Left to right, Adam Edmunds (president, Podium), Sid Krommenhoek (Peak Ventures), Clint Betts (executive director, Silicon Slopes), Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Dennis Steele (co-founder, Podium), and Eric Rea (co-founder and CEO, Podium).

Despite their nearly identical names, Clint Betts doesn’t want Silicon Slopes to become Silicon Valley in one way: housing costs.

“I think that we need to avoid the pitfalls of Silicon Valley,” Betts, the CEO of Silicon Slopes, said, “in Silicon Valley, if you don’t work in tech, you’re priced out. You can’t afford to live there. We need to be doing everything in our power in the state of Utah to avoid that happening here.”

Utah may not be quite as expensive as California’s tech hubs, but home and rental prices are inching closer. A 2023 report from the Kem. C Gardner Policy Institute found that only 15% of Utah’s renters could afford a home between $300,000 to $400,000. The report also found that housing prices in Utah increased by 72% since the beginning of 2018.

Still, it’s not California. The median-priced home in San Jose is $1.4 million, per data from Redfin. The heart of Silicon Valley is one of the most competitive markets in the country — with most homes selling within 10 days.

The heart of Utah’s tech industry is still far more affordable by comparison. Redfin data shows that the median home price in Lehi is $534,000. The median household income in Lehi in 2022 was a little more than $117,000 a year, according to the U.S. Census. That’s much higher than what residents of Salt Lake City make — where the median household income is a little more than $72,000 a year but the median home price is higher than Lehi’s at $555,000.

Betts hasn’t heard stories of tech companies struggling to recruit because of housing prices yet. “Tech has higher salaries anyway,” Betts said, “and probably where they’re being recruited from housing is even worse.”

Plus, “there may not be a lot of recruiting happening right now,” Betts said. “You’re probably seeing more cost-cutting and trying to become profitable.” The Tribune recently reported that some data shows that Utah’s tech job market is stagnant right now. Landing a job, let alone a significant pay raise, is getting harder, tech workers told The Tribune.

While tech workers in Utah may not be struggling to afford a home yet, Betts said the tech community is still worried. “If it’s affecting Utah, it’s affecting the tech community,” he said. Betts is working to organize and give tech workers more of a voice when it comes to problems like air quality, water and, of course, housing policy.

“I would give the governor and Legislature an ‘A’ on making [housing] a priority,” Betts said. “Thinking about it, making it part of their conversations and even passing legislation to do something about it.”

He thinks Utah is making progress — although he’s nervous that the gap in housing prices between places like Miami, Austin and San Francisco and Utah could disappear.