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‘I just cried’: recent layoffs could signal the Utah tech boom is tapering

Nicole Nixon / KUER
A row of empty desks at Qualtrics HQ in Provo. The company moved into its building in 2016 after it outgrew its old space.

When 26-year-old Kyra Stoner showed up for work on Wednesday, Nov. 2, she thought it would be a normal day. Instead, she was blindsided by unexpected news. Stoner worked for nearly three years as a recruiting specialist and eventually a university recruiter at Qualtrics, a software company specializing in customer experience data.

She said her manager called a meeting with her and a member of the HR department. She was told that a company restructuring was happening within the talent acquisition team and her position would be eliminated in a month.

"It really took me by surprise. We had no notice that something like that was going to happen at the company. And so it just really shocked a lot of people," Stoner said.

She would later learn that several others inside the company were also being laid-off.

Her manager said she could work there for another month while looking for a new job, but she wasn't expected to come to recurring meetings or take on new candidates — the biggest part of her role.

"It was this really weird space because I didn't know what other people expected from me within the company," she said.

Stoner said she's been through traumatic experiences, but this situation was tough to process.

Adding to the financial stress of losing her job, she’s three months pregnant with her first child. She did say she was offered a severance package.

Stoner said aside from the news that her position was being cut, she was most disappointed with what she felt was a lack of transparency, something she says is part of the company's core values.

“I was really proud of those values and felt really in line with them myself. And then felt like they kind of were, I don't know, kind of forgotten about when these layoffs happened," she said.

Qualtrics isn't the only Utah tech company making cuts. According to a Business Insider report, Lehi-based tech startup Podium laid off 12% of its staff at the end of November. It's unclear how many Qualtrics employees were affected by cuts.

At the time of publication, neither company had responded to KUER's request for comment regarding the layoffs.

At a recent press conference, officials with Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce pointed to the tech sector as a vital part of Utah County's growth.

"There was a time where you could get a degree and go work for Geneva Steel in Orem.

Well, those days are long gone and what's replaced that is this tech sector," said president and CEO Curtis Blair.

But there have been other Utah tech job losses, and nationally, social media giant Meta cut roughly 11,000 jobs in November. Twitter has also publicly announced significant layoffs.

Gov. Spencer Cox said he's not surprised by the recent tech layoffs. During his monthly press conference on Dec. 15, Cox said "it's a hard time of the year, obviously, to lay people off … [It’s] something that a lot of us thought would happen at some point, that there has to be a reshuffling there."

In September 2021, the Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity announced the Utah Technology Innovation Funding Pilot Program, which handed out a total of $4 million in grants and loans to support Utah tech companies.

"There was so much money being thrown around, and these evaluations in tech were astronomically high for companies whose products weren't making money yet," Cox said.

As interest rates increased, he said big funding dried up.

"If you're not profitable and you can't get investor money ... there's no question but to cut back," said Cox.

For people looking for work after layoffs, there are alternatives. Cox said thanks to low unemployment and thousands of unfilled tech jobs, there are opportunities available within companies who are making money.

The governor said he does anticipate more layoffs in the tech sector after the holidays, but his office is working to develop a conversation between companies in need of tech professionals and others reducing staff. The goal is to get some matchmaking done ahead of time. That could help to lighten the blow for those who may be affected.

Thanks to her connections, Kyra Stoner said she was able to land another job as an art consultant with Park City Fine Art.

While it's a different industry, she said the skills she learned at Qualtrics are still relevant.

"I was able to find something and find something that I'm excited about,” Stoner said. “Your skills are transferable. You just have to think about how they will be. I know it's tough out there, but good things are coming."

Corrected: December 16, 2022 at 3:15 PM MST
This story has been updated with exact quotes from Gov. Spencer Cox.
Curtis Booker is KUER’s growth, wealth and poverty reporter in Central Utah.
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