ST. GEORGE — St. George is known for a lot of things — sunny weather, recreation and tourism among them. But few think of St. George as a hub for high-tech jobs or a destination for young professionals.
A new mixed-use development is trying to change all that.
Located at the site of the original St. George airport on the cliffs overlooking downtown, Tech Ridge aims to create a "live-work-play" community of offices, retailers, restaurants, residences and recreational opportunities in a package never before seen in southern Utah.
Isaac Barlow, CEO of construction tech firm busybusy and a driver of the Tech Ridge project, said the development will include a million square feet of office space, 260,000 square feet of retail, 600 hotel rooms and 2,400 residential units.
Construction began about four years ago and is expected to last for another 15 years or so, he said.
Elainna Ciaramella, contributor to Utah Business magazine, profiled the new development extensively in an article released this week. Ciaramella spoke to St. George Mayor Jon Pike and executives from Dixie State University, Dixie Tech, the city, and tech companies moving in. They all view Tech Ridge as a development that can help St. George attract and retain top-flight talent while boosting the profile and economy of the entire region.
"This is definitely going to be increasing our wages" in St. George, Ciaramella told KSL.com. "This is a huge deal. What I found out speaking to the mayor is, most of southern Utah's money comes from tourism and health care. And Washington County has been lagging for a long time with wages. This is going to change that dynamic completely."
Ciaramella said Tech Ridge will target millennial workers by adding a bit more nightlife to the city in addition to its restaurants, gyms and other necessities.
"The idea of Tech Ridge is to create this space that millennials are going to want to work — live, work and play," she said. "That's why there's going to be a gym, there's going to be a bar, there's going to be coffee shops, there's going to be shopping.
"And there's nothing like this in the United States. So, this is going to be a game-changer."
Ciaramella's article names PrinterLogic, Airborne ECS and Zonos as three firms that will call Tech Ridge home. Dixie Technical College already opened a campus on the ridge in 2018; its students are examples of some the development hopes to retain.
Barlow told KSL.com the impetus behind Tech Ridge came as he and other local tech industry executives sought to recruit and retain talent in St. George.
"Myself and other tech leaders in town were just looking at St. George saying, 'hey, our companies are growing really good and doing really good. Are we going to be able to continue to grow, and thrive like we need to, in St. George?'" Barlow said.
He said Tech Ridge is about creating an environment that "top talent wants to be part of."
"And for the city of St. George," Barlow said, "it was how do they keep us, the tech companies, here? Because if we grow too big, where we cannot attract that talent to us any more, then we'd have to move somewhere else where we can. So Tech Ridge was really a solution to keep us in St. George, which is where we want to be."
Barlow's background in excavation and land development helped him think big about the project's potential. He said the planning behind the community will be key to its appeal and success, avoiding piecemeal development.
"We didn't do this haphazardly," he said. "We start out with great master planning, and we hired some of the best land planners in the nation."
He said the result will combine urban amenities with St. George's one-of-a-kind recreational offerings. "It really is about using, or building off of, the natural environment that's here, that everybody loves to be in St. George for," Barlow said. The development will be surrounded by a 5-kilometer trail for walking, jogging and biking, he said.
About 180 total acres will be developed for Tech Ridge and 60 of those, Barlow said, are for parks, trails and open space.
Last week, CNBC named St. George one of 10 small American cities that could turn into "work-from-home destinations" based on the percentage of residents who worked from home in 2018 — an especially relevant list now that the coronavirus pandemic has kept many workers at home and made companies wonder, in some cases, about keeping them there long-term.
Barlow said Tech Ridge properties will be designed with home work in mind. Even if the office is down the street, he said, employees won't always need to work from there.
"We envision a lot of tech companies might be here and have a lot of their employees working with them — and then they might have a lot of employees who are literally next door, still up on the ridge, but maybe they're working from home and able to collaborate in for team meetings and then go back to their home office, if they want.
"We're thinking of all that up front," Barlow said, "and I think that's going to give us a huge advantage."
Ciaramella now happens to live just down the street from Tech Ridge and looks forward to watching it grow, she said.
"There's going to be nothing like it," she said. "Some will maybe just want to feed off the energy, and they might choose St. George because Tech Ridge will be just so unique and exciting. ... Los Angeles doesn't have anything like that. Nobody does."
The community is even installing a zip line, Ciaramella said.
"People are just going to want to work there because it's so exciting and fun."