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The City Journals

South Jordan the fourth-best small city in nation for small biz – three other Utah cities in top 10

May 30, 2019 03:06PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

South Jordan’s becoming a best small city for small business is due in part to a decade-old strategic decision to not be a farm community but a bustling, business-friendly community with green space, said Hugh Washburn, shown here with Elements Massage co-owner, his wife, Shauna Washburn. (Photo Credit: Elements Massage)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

At the Salt Lake County Regional Development Summit last month, Clint Betts, executive director of Lehi’s famed Silicon Slopes high-technology business cluster, told a packed room and an attentive Facebook Live audience that cities’ economic-development offices should not try to chase already-built, high-flying companies to locate a field office in their cities. A much better strategy, according to Betts? “Help small businesses grow.”

With that in mind, the city of South Jordan is ready to continue to make hay (but without a lot of farm land) on the statewide and nationwide scene.

According to a new report from Verizon, South Jordan is the fourth-best small city in the country to start or grow a small business. 

SoJo finding small-city, small-biz sweet spot, along with other Utah cities

Verizon defines a “small city” as one with a population between 50,000 and 75,000. South Jordan’s current population of 85,000 and adding an additional 5,000 residents annually will likely exempt the city from further honors in this poll.

Remarkably, Salt Lake County hosts two of the top-10 slots for business, with both SoJo and cousin-city Taylorsville placed at No. 4 and No. 8, respectively.

Perhaps even more remarkably, the state of Utah has four of the top-10 sites, with Silicon Slopes’ Lehi coming in at No. 7 and Logan nabbing the coveted No. 1 spot.

The Secret Sauce for entrepreneurship? 

“The Verizon survey covers the foundation of what you need for a good business environment,” said Jim Herrin, director of the Salt Lake Region Small Business Development Center, based at the Salt Lake Community College Larry Miller Campus in Sandy. 

In naming the top-100 small cities for small business, Verizon evaluated a few different criteria as follows:

Population: Cities were rewarded for balancing “urban stride with a more hometown vibe.”

Education: Kudos were given to cities whose 25 or older populations have received a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university or college.

Commute Time: Points were awarded to cities with low average commute time for those 16 or older. “Commute” considers time spent carpooling, waiting for public transportation and navigating traffic.

Per-Capita Income: Rewards were doled to cities with residents who are paid fairly, yet with labor costs being manageable for employers.  

Broadband Access: Connected cities have internet access of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads.

Per-Capita Loans: Business loan-friendly cities prospered on the survey criteria.

Tax Scores: Cites with lower taxes, according to the Tax Foundation’s 2019 State Business Tax Climate Index were rewarded.

Non-Farm Businesses: Cities with a lower percentage of farm businesses benefitted.


The SoJo spin on city-making: light rail, light regulation, plus heavy recreation create ‘perfect storm’ 

“South Jordan has a great foundation in terms of its starting place, plus a lot of things they have created as well,” Herrin said. “They have a perfect storm but in a good way.” 

Herrin praised SoJo’s educated workforce and transportation infrastructure—including roads and light rail as well as access to capital. 

“South Jordan is a very business-friendly city,” he said. “The disposable income in South Jordan is about 40 percent greater than the United States average, which will encourage people to spend money in the city,” he added, noting that “[There are] a lot of stores going up in The District Mall.”

In addition to the high per-capita income, South Jordan is a city with “just about the lowest unemployment rate in the whole state, which is a story in itself,” he said, citing Bureau of Labor statistics.

“Those things create the environment where it’s going to happen, and it has happened,” Herrin said.

Benefiting from an environment for entrepreneurship

It has happened for SoJo business Elements Massage, located in the Towne Center, right by SoJo City Hall and a host of retail businesses. 

Hugh Washburn, co-owner of the SoJo franchise, indicates that in five years, his business has bloomed from eight therapists working in less than 800 square feet to today’s 34 therapists occupying 2,000 square feet.

Washburn, who is vice chair of the South Jordan Chamber of Commerce, credits both the Salt Lake Metro environment and SoJo’s environment within that larger context as helping spur business growth. 

The Salt Lake Valley, he says, “has all of the amenities of a larger city,” including recreational, higher education and technology incubators like Silicon Slopes.

South Jordan has elegantly, positioned itself within this larger environment, successfully differentiating itself from “all of the small cities in the area,” he said. 

“South Jordan decided, probably 10 years ago, that they were going to stop trying to be a bedroom community that just protects farmland and, [instead], focus on growth—while keeping open land,” Washburn said.

While praising South Jordan’s strategy, interestingly, Washburn and his co-owner spouse Shauna, who often each travel separately to the business, have elected to reside in neighboring bedroom community Herriman, which has the lowest jobs-to-population ratio in the state. Each drives at least 20 miles roundtrip, spending at least 40 minutes on the road.

“Small businesses are the backbone of growth,” he summed.