Kevin Driggs, who is responsible for recruiting new engineering graduates for Lehi-based technology company IM Flash, has a big problem.

His company is having a hard time finding enough engineers to fill job openings because IM Flash is growing so rapidly. Normally, the company, which produces memory chips for consumer electronics such as computers and smartphones, hires 40 to 50 engineers each year.

We’re going to have to hire 150 people just this year. Potentially, we might have to hire more than that, Driggs said. Some of the things we are working on will cause us to grow rapidly.

IM Flash’s difficulty with trying to find qualified engineers is not unique in Utah’s exploding tech sector. All over the state and particularly along the Wasatch Front where the technology hub is dubbed Silicon Slopes, high-tech companies are scrambling to find people to fill their open engineering positions.

According to a new study by the Utah Technology Council (UTC) released this month, a sample of 40 of Utah’s high-tech companies said they alone have more than 525 positions currently open that require at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering or computer science, compared to 320 in 2012. These same companies expect that to grow to more than 1,840 openings in the next year. Since that’s just a fraction of Utah’s more than 5,000 tech businesses represented by UTC, the overall demand is much higher, according to Richard Nelson, president and CEO for UTC, which represents Utah’s high-tech industry.

We’re one of the hottest innovation communities in the country, Nelson said about Utah’s Silicon Slopes. It’s a great place to start a business, grow a business, and it’s a great place for growing careers and for recreation.

National statistics are also bearing that out.

This month, the Washington D.C.-based think tank, Brookings Institution, released America’s Advanced Industries: What They Are, Where They Are, and Why They Matter, a report that examines the nation’s rising tech sector and its importance to the U.S. economy. In it, the Wasatch Front was pegged as a fast-growing metropolitan area for industries including software development, research and development, manufacturing and data processing.

In Salt Lake City, 11.1 percent of all jobs in 2013 were in what the report calls advanced industries such as tech and research and development, the 15th highest percentage in the country. In the Provo-Orem area, it was even higher at 12 percent, or 12th in the nation. Meanwhile, Ogden-Clearfield was 11.3 percent, or 14th in the country.

The tech sector has been driving the economy in the state for a number of years, and its growth continues to be very robust, said Val Hale, executive director for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in Utah. I don’t talk to any CEO in a tech company in Utah who isn’t talking about growing and having the need for qualified workers. I hear it every day.

Hale believes that a strong entrepreneurial spirit, favorable state business regulations, and Utah’s quality of life have created a perfect storm for the state’s high-tech industry to take off. Utah and Salt Lake City have recently been showered with accolades for their economic vitality, including Best State for Business (Forbes), Top Cities for High-Paying Jobs ( and Best Cities for Job Seekers (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The state also has the fourth-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.5 percent.

If someone graduates with the right skill set, there is not a problem right now getting a job here, he said. Universities need to keep their finger on the pulse of industry and find out what those businesses are looking for with their workforce needs.

The University of Utah’s College of Engineering is trying to meet the state’s demand for qualified graduates. Last year, it awarded 753 undergraduate and graduate degrees, more than double the number in 1999. But U College of Engineering Dean Richard Brown said local universities need to do more. According to UTC’s study, 70 percent of those companies surveyed said they were having difficulty finding enough qualified candidates from Utah engineering or technical schools.

As a state-supported university, the U has an obligation to try to meet the workforce needs of Utah employers. Our success in increasing the number of engineering and computer science graduates has been a factor in attracting companies to our state, Brown said. But as the UTC survey shows, industry has a need for these graduates that far exceeds the number available.

To help increase the flow of new graduates, the U’s College of Engineering has an outreach program that introduces about 40,000 K-12 students to engineering each year. Alumni and friends of the university also donate money that provides more than 450 scholarships each year. And the college is developing high school engineering courses to help students make the transition to the U.

We want to help students discover the excitement that comes in applying science, math and creativity, Brown said, to invent new products and processes to meet the grand challenges facing humanity in this century.