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SALT LAKE CITY — Closed stores and restaurants. Empty stadiums and Ubers. Largely abandoned airports and hotels.
Make no mistake — the past year has dealt many lemons to Utah workers. But the KSL Investigators found people are turning it into lemonade in record numbers.
Data shared by the Utah Department of Commerce shows 80,637 new businesses were registered in the state of Utah in 2020 — an increase of 4,848 from 2019.
And in just the last month, Utah added 1,839 new businesses — up 40% from a year prior.
Pandemic-be-darned: New Utah business is booming.
"Doesn't make sense, right?" said Margaret Woolley-Busse, newly appointed executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce. "It feels very counterintuitive."
Still, Woolley-Busse said Utah is trying to position itself as the "start-up" state, and the numbers tell her that it's working.
"I think people are going to be primed to get going," Woolley-Busse said. "I think that's what we're seeing already lots of innovation, and Utah is the place to be for that."
Rhett Buttle, a former business advisor to the Joe Biden campaign, said the boom is not unique to Utah.
So many people are venturing into entrepreneurship right now that his business, Public Private Strategies, has partnered with AARP to launch a website aimed at helping people with ideas navigate all the hurdles of running a business.
Buttle said he credits the pandemic with lighting a fire in some people's bellies to look for new ways to earn a living.
"When we are in moments of interesting periods in history like we are right now with COVID, we need as much innovation and entrepreneurship as possible," he said. "That's honestly when we see that American people are at their best."
When we are in moments of interesting periods in history like we are right now with COVID, we need as much innovation and entrepreneurship as possible. That's honestly when we see that American people are at their best.
–Rhett Buttle, former business advisor to Biden campaign
It's not just new businesses that are booming. In Utah, so are new charities.
Chantelle Galloway started one called "Support the Small" after business at her Salt Lake City bridal shop slowed. Her charity sells hats and shirts, with the money raised going to help small business owners.
"Just trying to help people survive," Galloway said.
She is in good company. State records show that in 2020, Utah registered 533 charities every single month, which was an increase of 19% from the year before.
Back to business, it's hard to say exactly what types of businesses are launching based on new-business records. But, at a glance, it seems to be a wide variety getting off the ground in Utah.
We have seen about a 28% increase in the number of real estate-related licenses that we've issued this year, which is remarkable — huge uptick.
–Margaret Woolley-Busse, executive director, Utah Department of Commerce
But businesses that require individuals to be licensed paint a picture. Specifically, Utah has seen a massive spike in people getting their real estate licenses, Woolley-Busse said.
"We have seen about a 28% increase in the number of real estate-related licenses that we've issued this year, which is remarkable — huge uptick," she said.
Records also show a spike in people entering the financial sector.
Woolley-Busse said she thinks Utah will see a lot more new business starts, and we can look forward to the future with a lot of optimism.
"The reality is that we've seen a lot of churn. People have obviously lost jobs, which has been heartbreaking. But there's also been all this forced experimentation that has occurred because of the pandemic," she said. "We're all having to do things in very different ways and that's giving people different ideas for businesses."