SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s booming tech industry is about to get more political.
Slopes PAC, a political action committee created to represent the interests of Silicon Slopes, is launching this week with an eye on the Utah State Legislature.
“We’re one of the largest sectors of employers in the state. We bring in a lot of jobs, growth, wealth,” Sunny Washington, the CEO of the newly-formed political action committee, said in an interview with FOX 13. “So we should have a voice.”
Slopes PAC has the ability to collect a lot of money from a multi-billion dollar sector of Utah’s economy that is growing in influence. As a political action committee, they can support or oppose candidates for office, ballot initiatives and legislation.
“Tech in Utah has done extremely well. But we would also be doing the community a disservice if we didn’t also try to bring the rest of the community along with our growth,” said Washington.
“Silicon Slopes” refers collectively to Utah’s tech sector, which is made up of thousands of companies mostly located along the Salt Lake-Utah County line. An offshoot of Silicon Slopes Commons, the trade group that represents the tech industry, the PAC will focus on policies centered around on economic innovation, workforce issues and social and economic mobility.
“This is beyond tax incentives. We’re talking about pipeline. We’re talking about being able to hire the best of talent. We’re talking about diversity and inclusion,” Washington said.
Silicon Slopes has started to become increasingly vocal on Utah’s Capitol Hill. In 2020, the Silicon Slopes Tech Summit hosted a debate among the Republican candidates vying to be Utah’s next governor.
The tech industry got involved in Utah’s COVID-19 response through TestUtah.com, which resulted in scrutiny and pushback. In the 2021 legislative session, Silicon Slopes Commons also started weighing in on bills dealing with alcohol policy, opposing bills that targeted transgender youth and supporting Dixie State University’s name change.
Those bills impacted the tech sector in one way or another, from employee and company recruitment to what was perceived as hurting Utah’s image. But Silicon Slopes’ input on legislation this year wasn’t always well received on Capitol Hill. Some lawmakers tried to tell them to stay out of it.
“One of the things I quickly realized with this last legislative session when I started my role is that tech had a megaphone, but we didn’t necessarily have influence,” Washington said. “And I think the PAC is a way to get that influence.”
In the legislature, business interests are well-represented in the form of lobbyists, PACs and advocacy groups on issues ranging from real-estate and development to taxation and social issues. Depending on the issue, Slopes PAC could find itself in good company or facing opposition.
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers welcomed their involvement and expressed some curiosity about it. Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who represents some of the area where Silicon Slopes firms are located, said it was “good news.”
“We have a very diverse economy. I think all those voices need to be represented on Capitol Hill,” he said. “That tech sector in Utah county where I live, where I represent, is extremely important.”
Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, said it was an opportunity for Silicon Slopes to flex some political muscle.
“Silicon Slopes, like the rest of Utah, finds itself frustrated by the legislature a lot,” he said. “I think pulling together a PAC and putting their interests behind various candidates or policy proposals? It’s a wise move on their part.”
Slopes PAC plans to focus on state politics. Washington said Slopes PAC is nonpartisan, so it would support both Republican and Democratic candidates.
“They have a lot of power in terms of the way we live and our quality of life,” she said of the Utah State Legislature. “I think it’s important the tech community gets involved.”