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Front Page » May 10, 2005 » Local News » Rural business conference attracts hundreds
Published 3,804 days ago

Rural business conference attracts hundreds

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Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman talks with executives from the Lickety Split including Andrew Dayish, the CEO, a candy company organized by some kids in San Juan County after his address to the business conference at CEU last Wednesday. Huntsman says that Utah is on the cusp of huge growth.

The Rural Utah Business Conference treated attendees to a watershed of information last Tuesday and Wednesday.

Almost 450 people came to Carbon County from across the state to attend the event at the College of Eastern Utah. The conference attracted the largest crowd since it began four years ago.

"From what I've heard we've sold out the town," said Senator Bob Bennett during the conferences reception last Tuesday. "It's great to be here in Price and it looks like a lot of other people think so, too."

The annual conference is presented to not only provide a heads up on rural business practices, but to inform present and potential companies about available services ranging from financing to strategy planning.

Last week, the Jennifer Leavitt Student Center was lined with booths manned by people from various state and federal agencies, private contractors and consultants as well as educational institutions.

The activities were supplemented by workshops and presentations geared toward small and large businesses operating in rural areas.

The breakout workshops included seminars on finding and keeping quality employees, accessing capital for business operations, marketing, and dealing with government policies and regulations.

A lot of individuals turned out for Wednesday morning's address and the luncheon keynote speaker. While Bennett hosted the conference, the speech by Gov. Jon Huntsman drew a lot of attention.

"In 1937, the marketplace in the United States was very well defined," began Huntsman during the address. "That market place was on Main Street and it was well defined what people needed to do to make a go of it. Today, in 2005, the marketplace is very complex and at times even confusing. The market place has moved from Main Street to the Internet, from small independent businesses to more chain stores. But the one constant we still have in this country is entrepreneurship and that is an American trait. If we ever lose that, we will become a second rate country. We will be dead."

Huntsman also discussed how government affects business.

"Government does not create jobs," said Huntsman ."What we do is to create an environment for business. We should be removing barriers to business."

The governor viewed Utah as being in the most competitive place in the world - the mountain west. He challenged the people in the audience to look at themselves and to define where they want to be in 20 years.

"We can't do everything and can't be all things to all people," stated Huntsman. "In Utah, we need to decide what we are going to be good at."

The governor described an economy in the next 20 years that will include IT software, aerospace design and engineering, homeland security spin-off businesses, agriculture, natural resources and tourism.

Business people and officials wander through the various booths set up in the Leavitt Student Center.

"This next year, the state of Utah will be making an unprecedented effort to reach out to people in other places and to bring them to our state," stated Huntsman. "We are starting a new name branding campaign for the state and are spending 17 million dollars this next year to get that message out."

The governor pointed out that the state is currently on the cusp of a growth spurt. And Utah is projected to be the fifth fastest growing state in the nation during the next 30 years.

Following Huntsman's remarks, Patrick Byrne spoke to attendees during the lunch break.

Byrne started overstock.corn a few years ago. The company has grown from selling a few computer and electronic items in 2000 to a nearly $1 billion venture that sells overstock and bankrupt inventories as well as various products that the business contracts for on the world wide web. But despite the growth he had his own set of problems when he began the business. One of those problems was finding the capital to finance his endeavor.

"During that era in the late 1990's when everything was booming I was turned down by 55 different venture capitalists who I asked to support what I was doing," he told a packed ballroom. "Many of the businesses those people supported during that time were later the same companies we liquidated when the dot com boom collapsed."

Byrne described his business as a "jobber" or one that takes inventories and plays the middleman reselling items that were once in the marketplace somewhere else.

Byrne also pointed out that sometimes a startup company operates better when ideas and ethics take the place of management expertise.

"When I came here from New Hampshire and started this business I just had local Utah folks, a few well educated, some not so educated," he said. "After the first couple of years of fantastic growth I was convinced by our board of directors that we needed to hire a professional management team to run the company. About that same time things were going so well that I decided to get away for a few months and when I returned I found our business had dropped sharply in almost all sectors. I decided the professional managers we had hired were not doing the job so I house cleaned. And after I had scraped off all the problems, what was left were that same group of Utahns I had in the first place. At first we shrunk our business after that and then we began to grow again."

Byrne said he doesn't think the company would have had as much success in other places as it has in Utah.

"Utah is a wired place," he said. "People here know about using computers. You can hardly find a job applicant that doesn't know his or her way around many of the basic programs used in todays business. That's not true of many states; in most a high percentage of people have never even used a computer."

Byrne found that as far as employees go what kind of people they are is often more important than what they know or what skills they have.

"We spend a lot of time in our company talking about the philosophy of our company and our ethics," he said. "I am concerned about the "be" of a person as much as their skills and abilities."

Byrne also pointed out that due to his companies commitment to bringing quality kinds of products to customers, the firm is now the largest employer in four different countries, one of them being Afghanistan.

"I found out one of the keys to getting quality work from craftsmen in third world countries is to target the women in those countries," he said. "When the women start to work for us as independent contractors, suddenly they are making more money than their husbands. This tends to change their society and the way things are done quite substantially."

After traveling to many countries where women are living as the downtrodden in a society, Byrne says he is quite satisfied by those changes and said that he thinks "deconstructing some of these societies" with economics is a good thing.

In his final comments he said he thought that the way small retailers would be able to compete in the future with large retailers would be by becoming "niche" oriented and by using the internet to buy from non-traditional sources that could give them price breaks on goods that they purchased from regular suppliers in the past.

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