While the COVID-19 pandemic has led to many struggles for businesses across the country, some stories that were born out of the COVID-19 pandemic showcased local persistence, adaptability and strength.
Businesses came together to partner for sustainability, diversity, mental health awareness and local.
Here are the top five business stories from around Utah County in 2020.
Utah businesses come together for sustainability
In late September, the Beehive state had its climate week for 2020, and in response, the Utah Sustainability Business Coalition came together with various businesses from around the state, pledging to improve their sustainability.
Businesses and organizations that made pledges during the event included the likes of Nu Skin, Qualtrics, Adobe, Young Living, Kodiak Cakes, Larry H. Miller companies, Provo City and more.
The webinar was kicked off by Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who stressed sustainability in relation to the growth the state of Utah is seeing and has been seeing.
“The work that you have done over the past year has been just tremendous,” Cox said of the coalition. “As we look out over the horizon at where we are headed and this idea of business driving sustainability, it is impossible for me to overstate how important this really is. We are seeing changes in our state, we are seeing changes in consumer attitudes and with business leaders and their attitudes which will allow us to continue to grow, but continue to grow in the right way in our state.”
Deven Patten, the host of the webinar and Director of Sustainability for Young Living, added that a movement toward sustainability in Utah is “vitally important.”
Patten said he remembers looking out on the valley in the spring and being able to see it all without the bad air quality. It was eye opening for him to see the impact a small change can have through a new outlook, something he and the coalition hope to bring to Utah businesses.
Partnership to support Black-owned businesses
Podium and the Utah Black Chamber announced a partnership in July to create Utah’s first directory intended to find and connect consumers with local Black-owned businesses.
Utah-native James Jackson founded the Utah Black Chamber of Commerce in September of 2009 with no experience owning and operating a nonprofit or business at the time. New to the business world but willing to learn, Jackson launched the Utah Black Chamber to help build Black-owned businesses across the state.
“This is my home, this is my passion,” he said. “I never expected it to grow as big as it is right now.”
The chamber announced its partnership with Podium, a Lehi-based company that connects businesses with customers through a multitool suite, to create an all-encompassing directory for Black-owned businesses that connects consumers with businesses and professionals.
The new site, utahblackpages.com, went live in July and includes as many Black-owned businesses and professionals as the Utah Black Chamber could find, whether they are a member of the chamber or not.
The idea of a directory had been on Jackson’s mind for some time, he said, but the Utah Black Chamber didn’t have the resources — mainly the bandwidth — to make such an ambitious concept a reality.
While there has been a meaningful amount of support, Jackson said even in its infancy, the site has received significant criticism. When the website was launched, several people attacked the chamber for being racist and segregating business owners.
Jackson said the directory is in no way meant as a malicious attack on other business owners.
“We haven’t had the same opportunities as the majority has had since the beginning of this nation, and because of that, we have had to create programs in order to continuously elevate to an equitable level, and we’re still not there,” he said. “Black Pages is about, not so much as segregating, but mores integrate us into the communities so we can have the same representation, visibility and resources as the rest of the community has.”
Dozens of businesses are already available on the Utah Black Pages. If any businesses have been missed, the owners can request to be added to the directory online.
Utah businesses strive for LGBTE certification
The National LGBT Chamber of Commerce is helping to identify LGBTQ businesses through a distinguished certification. A Provo-based business is one of only 11 in the state to have earned the distinction.
The chamber works to expand economic opportunities and procurement initiatives for LGBTQ business owners in all 50 states.
The chamber is currently the nation’s largest LBGTQ advocacy force, working to ensure opportunities are open to gender, romantic and sexual minorities in business at every level of government and in every element of business, from the supply chain to the workplace to the internship.
“We are working to make sure everyone lives up to what we know to be the driving principle behind our work, which is diversity and inclusion is good for business,” Lovitz said.
Ann Atkin has lived in Provo for 31 years with her wife, their six children and 22 grandchildren. A little over 4 years ago, Atkin and her wife founded Meth Mob Decontamination after learning about the high rate of methamphetamine use in homes.
The company specializes in the decontamination of homes and properties where meth has been made or used, as well as provides education courses on the effects of meth use.
In Dec. 2019, the company earned two certifications as a women-owned business and an LGBTQ-owned business. Meth Mob Decontamination became the third business in the state and the first in the county to earn the LGBTBE certification.
For Atkin, the certification was an opportunity to further market her growing business.
“I think it comes down to: people want to do business with decent people, they don’t necessarily mean to be bigoted or prejudiced,” she said. “So I’m a woman, so I’m gay, there’s so much more to me than just those things.”
As of Aug. 11, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce had over 1,400 certified businesses and over 260 corporate partnerships. Business owners can begin the certification process online.
Race to find $4,000 buried in Provo begins
A treasure chest full of silver medallions worth $4,000 was buried in Utah County, and the race to find that chest started in August.
After months of planning and development, Abe Hochstetler and Bryce Byers launched Treasure Finders, a GPS-based treasure finding app, that allows users to search for real rewards through clues and adventure. The pair decided to launch the app during the pandemic to offer a fun alternative to staying home for families.
“Right now, with everything going on, it’s just such a safe, wholesome, fun, naturally socially distanced activity,” Byers said.
Users were able to access clues that led to high-value treasure chests by finding smaller, more common chests. The app contained over 50 treasure hunts across the county at the time of the $4,000 adventure.
Each hunt has a rating beside it to show how other users enjoyed it and what to expect, including an estimated time frame, the attire buccaneers, or users, should wear and the skill level required.
Each hunt had a maximum of five clues, with the hardest clues coming in first. After they complete a stop, and are in the correct location, users hit the “dig for treasure” button to earn their reward.
Local businesses can also participate as merchants. Merchants can have their locations included in a treasure hunt as a stop and the treasures people can earn at merchant stops are coupons to the business.
Hochstetler and Byers said they are looking forward to expanding into other counties around the state, and hopefully, one day, becoming a nationwide app.
Universities within the county had already started using the Treasure Finders app for their orientations. The universities organized treasure hunts with stops that included various important places around campus, such as counselor’s offices, libraries and cafeterias.
On August 15, Hochstetler and Byers buried the second treasure chest containing $4,000 worth of silver coins in the Provo area.
Serviceman announces nonprofit for vets with PTSD
Eagle Mountain resident Bric Simpson has served in the Utah Army National Guard for 21 years and counting.
It was only recently, however, that he set out to start a nonprofit, called Forge Forward. The organization was developed in an effort to help veterans who experience Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder negotiate their lives outside of the military.
Through his service, Simpson said he has felt there has not been a lot done to help build communities for veterans. For service men and women, forging communities is one of their most important experiences.
“We started the idea of the Forge Forward Project with wanting to build tribes around the service members again,” Simpson said. “When you serve, you serve in a team, you learn to rely on that team and they basically become your family. That was the goal.”
Now, Simpson is hoping to pay it forward through his nonprofit.
While he has experience with other entrepreneurial ventures, Simpson wanted to pursue Forge Forward as his first nonprofit organization.
Forge Forward has partnered with XzoltaR — a California-based, veteran-owned, tech company that is dedicated to creating virtual reality environments. Forge Forward and XzoltaR have developed a partnership to connect veterans with healthcare professionals through virtual reality environments.
What is known as the “Veteran Lodge” is a virtual reality location where veterans can go to games and be social with friends they may have been deployed with or haven’t seen in a long time.
The most exciting part about this is the pioneering of virtual reality therapy for these individuals.
“When you wear a uniform and you say that you need to talk to a healthcare professional, there sometimes can be a stigma,” Simpson said. “Within this environment you can do that anonymously. You can build an avatar and meet with someone right out of the comfort of your own home.
The final message Simpson hopes to impart is the idea that, “adversity doesn’t define you, it refines you if you’ll let it.” Simpson said he is very passionate about that mindset.
Those wanting to find out more about Forge Forward can follow them on social media at “ForgeForwardProject” or visit the organization’s website.